Author: dirqusmaximus

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

2017 – A group of scientists and soldiers launch an expedition to an uncharted island and are quickly beset by its monstrous inhabitants and its legendary protector, Kong.

You’ll be relieved to know that this movie is not a remake of the original 1933 King Kong (or of the 1976 remake, OR of the execrable 2005 Peter Jackson remake). It’s actually more akin to the Faro Island sequences from Toho’s 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla.

Yes, it’s a reboot, which in 2017 means that the studio is trying to do the Marvel thing and create yet another multi-movie “shared universe” (alongside the 2014 American Godzilla [not to be confused with the 1998 American Godzilla {which itself was a reboot of the 1954 Toho Godzilla (which was rebooted with 1984’s The Return of Godzilla [and subsequently rebooted again in Godzilla 2000])}]).

Instead of having an obsessed director helm the expedition, Skull Island gives us obsessed scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman). He recruits tracking specialist James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), requisite “girl power” photographer Mason Weaver (the willowy-yet-surprisingly-large-breasted Brie Larson) and Samuel L. Jackson-like angry black army guy Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). There are about a billion other characters, but rest assured that every ethnic group is solidly represented.

The trip to Skull Island turns out to be somewhat more challenging than initially believed, and our protagonists have to confront every danger that this prehistoric land has to offer in order to make it back to civilization. If you’ve seen a Kong movie before, you’ll know that these dangers have to include land and air dinosaurs, enigmatic natives, giant bugs, and a huge octopus / squid.

One of the best things about this movie is that it wastes very little time getting to the Kong-induced mayhem. There are a few split-second attempts at characterization, but the filmmakers knew that people come to a monster movie for the monsters. And Kong is clearly a monster this time around – hundreds of feet tall, like the Toho version, and walking mostly upright, like the 1933 version.

As you might expect from a 2-hour film, things sag a bit toward the middle despite the addition of zany castaway character Marlow (John C. Reilly). The film’s lack of character development becomes a real liability here, because suddenly all these people – most of whose names I couldn’t remember – are supposed to be very important to us. But I didn’t particularly care about any of Samuel L. Jackson’s soldiers, or the whiny scientists, or Hiddleston’s nearly useless tracker character.

Fortunately, the climax more than makes up for these minor deficiencies. Compared to other cinematic monsters, it’s pretty rare to see King Kong matched up against an opponent who is his equal in size and strength; Skull Island gives us a fantastic showdown that makes the most of not only Kong, but of the island terrain as well.

The human acting is about what you’d expect from a movie like this. And unfortunately I just can’t take John Goodman seriously anymore (when he talks, all I can think of is Dunkin’ Donuts). Kong moves about with appropriate majesty and savagery, but similar to his 2005 incarnation, the filmmakers try to do a little too much with his face. He stares wistfully at the moon, for instance, and dabbles with his own reflection in the water.

That is not the essence of King Kong. In the 1933 version, we have no doubt that Kong is an animal – a pretty intelligent one, but still just a big gorilla who only spares the heroine because, like his native worshipers, he’s never see a blonde woman before. In the 1933 version, the wilderness beyond the natives’ wall was a land of danger, with Kong being the biggest danger of all. Here, the natives build their wall to keep out the other monsters, and Kong is some kind of spiritual protector. When you remove that fear, the King loses something.

The CGI creatures are also not as effective as the 1933 stop-motion (or even the 1976 guy-in-a-suit). The human eye can easily tell that Kong and the other monsters are simply not real – there is no way a computer image can convey real size and scale. Plus, it doesn’t help that Kong is able to sneak up on people multiple times, without so much as a tremor in the ground to indicate his approach.

Still, these are my own quibbles. Kong: Skull Island gives the viewer ample monster mayhem for his money, delivering a viewing experience that, while it falls far short of the original, still out-does the Peter Jackson version by a wide margin. This is the kind of movie that must be seen in a theater. My advice is to do so.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

captain-america-civil-war

2016 – Half of the Avengers vote for Trump; the other half votes for Clinton. 

In my review of The Green Hornet, I took issue with the fact that one of the biggest fights was the two good guys beating each other up. Why not have your biggest fights be against the bad guys?

Well, Captain America: Civil War is basically a two-and-a-half-hour conflict (I won’t say “fight” because they fight for maybe a combined 10 minutes) between the good guys, and there is no bad guy. What a dumb concept that is, from a dramatic perspective: do we really think that Captain America will kill Iron Man? Or that Spider-Man will kill Ant-Man? Or that Falcon will kill Black Panther?

By the way, who the fuck are “Falcon” and “Black Panther”?!? And why is the guy’s name “Black Panther”? Panthers are black. That’s like calling someone “White Dove” or “Silver-Backed Silverback Gorilla.” Or is it because the guy is black?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the plot.

Remember how Star Wars fans criticized the original trilogy because there wasn’t enough politics, and applauded the prequel trilogy for including a lot more politics? Well, the brains at Marvel were paying attention, because this movie is like The American President meets All the President’s Men. We don’t want plots like “supervillain threatens the world,” we want a plot like “the United Nations writes up an enormous treaty limiting superhero activity and the superheroes disagree over whether to sign it or not.”

That’s the actual storyline of this movie. The storyline is shit.

Oh, and there is a bad guy, but he’s the 14th-billed person in the cast. When you have a superhero movie with at least 13 superheroes and ONE villain (who is in no way super), you’ve got a problem. Carrying on the tradition of Marvel making its very few well-known cool villains as lame as possible, we get Zemo.

Not Baron Zemo:

Bad-ass

Bad-ass

No, just Zemo:

Suck-ass

Suck-ass

I mean, come ON. This guy is more of a nerd than the guy they got to play Spider-Man, who is supposed to be a nerd! He looks like The Miz’s gay younger brother. And the costumes… there’s no comparison. Super-cool Baron Zemo has a sick mask and nice fur highlights. Ultra-lame movie Zemo looks like he’s relaxing backstage at the Strawbridge and Clothier catalog shoot. He sucks, doesn’t do anything, and (not a spoiler, since it’s a Marvel movie) doesn’t die at the end.

The bad guy is shit.

Skipping about two-thirds of the way through the movie (because, honestly, NOTHING happens for the first two-thirds), we finally get what I presume everyone wanted: the big fight, Team Iron Man vs. Team Captain America, the world’s most well-known heroic characters all in one scene!

civil-war-lame-lineup

That’s obviously… uh… Swoop Man there on the left, and… um… Metal Arm on the right, and I think the other guy is Green Arrow, and… alright, I honestly only know Captain America and Ant-Man, who looks exactly like the Cobra Strato Viper with a silver helmet:

civil-war-strato-viper

But okay, maybe Team Iron Man will have all the well-known guys.

captain-america-team-iron-man

Since the one on the left is Black Panther, is the guy on the right Black Iron Man (he’s also actually a black guy)? Also, you have to note how ridiculously unbalanced these teams are. The fact that this is even a fight really strains credibility.

The hero vs. hero battle is decent, for a battle in which you KNOW nobody is going to die. But keep in mind that the rest of the movie is this:

"I make a motion for more long talking scenes." "APPROVED!"

“I make a motion for more long talking scenes.” “I second that.” “APPROVED!”

It’s like 12 Angry Men, with superheroes! Please note that the character who is a ROBOT is wearing a button-up blouse with a sweater. And nothing says “excitement!” like multiple carafes of water!

Everybody talks about how Spider-Man is in this movie and how awesome he is, but honestly, my cup runneth over with Spider-Man at this point. Tom Holland does a decent job, but he’s no Tobey Maguire. And Aunt May… let’s talk about Aunt May for a moment. This is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-1

In the movies, THESE are Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-2 civil-war-aunt-may-3

And in Captain America: Civil War, this is Aunt May:

civil-war-aunt-may-4

Aunt May… is shit. They had one – ONE – character who is universally accepted as an elderly woman, and they get Marisa Tomei (of hot The Wrestler sex scene fame) to portray her. Simply abominable.

Some readers think that I’m faking my dislike for these movies. I’m not. I genuinely did not like Captain America: Civil War in almost any way. I thought it was logistically ponderous, visually uninteresting, and dramatically flat – all the hallmarks of the increasingly bloated Marvel “cinematic universe.”

The movie I saw just before this one: John Wick: Chapter 2. It was like having the best sex of my life, then cutting my own balls off and vomiting into the wound.

IT FOLLOWS

it-follows

2014 – After an ill-advised sexual tryst, Jay (Maika Monroe) is told she’s caught the worst STD imaginable: a shape-shifting supernatural creature who will relentlessly pursue her… unless she can “pass it on” to someone else…

This is a “rules” horror movie, like Gremlins (don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight) or The Ring (watch the tape and you die in seven days). Within the self-contained worlds of such movies, these rules function just fine. Unfortunately, killjoy know-it-all rules lawyer types flock to this genre like distressed patrons to the bathroom of a Chinese buffet.

Just look at the IMDB message boards for It Follows: “Trap it in a vault, then brick up the wall.” “Gay sex?” “Just pass it to a successful hooker.” “Semi simple problem to solve to be honest.” “What if you constantly stayed airborne?”

*SIGH* Yeah, you’re all geniuses. Now shut up. The point is, you have to accept a movie like this on its own terms. If you do, it’s a genuinely frightening and disturbing experience.

There’s a sense of bleak desolation that hangs over everything, even the few “happy” scenes. Our heroine Jay, her sister Kelli (Lili Sepe), and their friends Paul (Keir Gilchrist) and Yara (Olivia Luccardi), live in Detroit, and the area hasn’t looked this bad since OCP ran things.

Jay, who seems to be the object of desire for every male character in the movie, decides to get intimate with her new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). Things go well until he chloroforms her, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains that she’ll now be stalked by the titular “it.”

“It” moves toward you at a walking pace and can look like anyone, from a total stranger to a loved one – but most often like a creepy naked person. Once “it” catches you, you die and “it” goes back to following whoever came before you in the chain. Honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Jay. I’ve been told worse things on dates.

Fear, paranoia, and a sense of steadily encroaching doom pervade the rest of the whole production. While Maika Monroe turns in the best performance, balancing vulnerability with an endearing resilience, all of the relatively young cast does a fine job. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell largely eschews cheap “jump scares” in favor of steadily building tension and atmosphere.

What’s most fascinating, however, is Mitchell’s inspiration for the film – a recurring dream from his youth in which he was hounded by multi-level marketers. Mitchell acknowledges that he used “the basic idea and feeling” of this constant pursuit and harassment, and adds that his parents “got involved in a multi-level marketing scheme around that age, so I imagine it was something to do with that.”

When viewed through this lens, the movie becomes less a fable about the dangers of casual sex and more a cautionary tale about the agony caused by someone constantly hawking special makeup or “health” supplements.

Just as “it” follows its victims based on an ongoing chain of sexual encounters, so loathsome multi-level marketers pursue one person after another to add to their “downstream.” Just when you think you’ve satisfied them by ordering some junk jewelry or skin cream, BOOM! They’re back, having exhausted the rest of their pipeline. Just as “it” takes the form of friends and loved ones, you can easily come home one day to find your friend, your lover, or your spouse transformed into something monstrous, greedy, and inhuman.

Strains the mind a bit, doesn’t it? But filmmakers have used far more innocuous things as a source for scares. And like its own silent, faceless antagonist, the unsettling effect of It Follows will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

SUPER BOWL LI

2017 – A big-market team with legions of fans takes on a small-market team that no one cares about. WHO WILL WIN?!?

I have to give the NFL creative team credit – after a few missteps earlier in the season, they executed a near-perfect storyline to close things out and stave off disaster for another year.

They really dug themselves a hole at first, though. Never before had creative blunders nearly resulted in the ruin of the promotion itself. Remember when they thought an insurgent Colin Kaepernick was going to be the anti-hero the people would rally around? Remember Cam Newton’s hats and Odell Beckham’s backstage antics?

All the guys they were counting on to sell their video games and T-shirts let them down.

Ratings declined 8% for the 2016 season. The playoff games were dull and poorly-worked. The championship they ended up with – perennial favorite New England vs. chronic choke artist Atlanta – could not have been, on the surface, less inspiring. Creative had vastly misjudged the league’s audience, which was getting sick of a sterile, gutless, predictable product.

Then someone – and I hope they get a bonus or a promotion for thinking this up – decided they already had the perfect angle. While the “Attitude Era” of professional wrestling had the rebellious Stone Cold Steve Austin battling the insidious machinations of the reviled “Mr. McMahon” character, the NFL had the ready-made conflict of baby-face Tom Brady vs. the power-hungry “Mr. Goodell” character. Initially relegated to a secondary storyline behind heroic anthem protests and rookies with stars on their helmets, the “determined Patriots fight the system” plot was tailor-made for the big stage.

The fact that everyone knew what the result was going to be didn’t matter – what mattered was how they got there. Who better to save the league than the guy they built up, in the patriotic post-9/11 era, as the greatest of all time? Therefore: Brady sets nine records (including most Super Bowl MVP awards, passing yards, and wins as a QB) and ties a tenth; Belichick wins the most Super Bowls as a head coach; the Patriots pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history; and the game becomes the first Super Bowl to go to overtime. The eeeeevil Mr. Goodell, who was out to get the poor Patriots all year, got his comeuppance in front of a delighted nation.

It was everything an audience could wish to see. More than anything, the league simply could not afford a boring game – either a low-scoring affair or a lop-sided blowout. Something dramatic needed to happen.

Creative needed audiences on the edge of their collective seats, and they pulled out all the stops to do it. The series of plays toward the end of the first half, which saw the Patriots in three consecutive 3rd down situations, was a staging masterpiece. Each time, a flag flew. Each time, the flag was for defensive holding against the Falcons, keeping the Patriot drive alive and resulting in their only points of the first half.

One quibble I have – and this is admittedly a minor one – is that NFL creative seems to rely on this “halftime” thing a little too much. “Halftime” in the NFL is like Hulk Hogan suddenly becoming invincible at the end of a match; it’s a mystical, magical, inexplicable thing that we’re just expected to swallow without question. “They made some halftime adjustments,” we’re told, but can we really swallow the Patriots going from completely inept on both sides of the ball to historically dominant after a brief rest?

Another clumsy moment: the mysterious loss of communication on the Falcons’ sideline during the third quarter. Unfortunately the FOX broadcast caught practice quarterback Matt Simms tapping his earpiece and saying, “I can’t hear shit.” Fortunately they had soulless cardboard cutouts like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth, who were so busy belaboring an obvious point that they never even mentioned the incident.

Buck and Aikman were similarly silent regarding the pass interference call that made the Patriots’ game-winning overtime touchdown a foregone conclusion, and that’s their real skill. Their almost identical monotone voices help smooth over any little bumps in the performance. Audiences will usually miss an obvious momentum-shifting flag after Aikman spends five minutes bawling about great downfield blocking.

This was an unqualified success for NFL creative. The media, at least, is already crowning this “the greatest Super Bowl ever played.” I’m not sure about that, but it was exactly what the league needed to reassure advertisers that their millions of dollars are still well-spent.

I, for one, can’t wait to see what they whip up in 2017.

AMADEUS

amadeus

1984 – Some unpleasant old man really doesn’t care much for Mozart.

When this movie first came out, it was rated PG and ran for two hours and 41 minutes. That, I would say, is plenty of time for a Mozart story. The version I saw on Netflix, which is a dreaded “director’s cut,” runs over three hours and is rated R.

Far, far too long. The director, Milos Forman, notes what was cut for the (shorter) theatrical version: “Whatever was not directly connected to the plot.”

I’m sorry… isn’t that what’s SUPPOSED to be cut during the editing process? Was it not Antoine de Saint-Exupery who observed, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away”? Sorry, Milos Forman, but I doubt any audience felt cheated that several interminable scenes of Mozart sweatily conducting music got left out.

This is one of the movies that everyone knows the plot of already: Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) is the court composer for Emperor Joseph II (noted sex offender Jeffrey Jones). When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) arrives in Vienna, Salieri is driven mad by the realization that, in comparison to Mozart, he’s a talentless hack. He contrives a circuitous and convoluted scheme to ruin Mozart’s career and drive him to eventual illness and death, involving dressing up as the ghost of Mozart’s father (Roy Dotrice).

It’s hard to believe, but this ridiculous plot sounds better as a concept that it does in actual execution. Amadeus won EIGHT OSCARS and was nominated for eleven, but I’m afraid I just don’t see it. There is a critical flaw at the heart of Amadeus, a flaw so glaring that the movie’s few merits are completely obliterated.

Simply put, nobody likes classical music. It is boring and no one listens to it. However, in this movie, all everyone does is listen to classical music and talk about how great it is. This is just not very realistic.

There are a lot of movies where people listen to classical music or go to an opera, but something important is usually happening. When the Emperor goes to the opera in Revenge of the Sith, for instance, he is intent on seducing Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. In Amadeus, the Emperor also attends the opera… but then he just talks about how much he liked the opera! Can you imagine if that’s what happened in Revenge of the Sith? “Hey, Palpatine, can you tell me more about the powah of the Dahk Syde?” “Not today, Anakin. I’d rather you focus on this weird musical that they’re performing in a language we can’t understand.”

Way back in my first review here, I made note of the distinct lack of fart scenes in The King’s Speech. I hate to say it, but here there are almost too many fart scenes. I’m sorry, but in a movie about jealousy, obsession, insanity, attempted suicide, and murder, what is the point of having Mozart farting? It’s hilarious, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and a place for fart scenes.

As an example: the scene where Salieri has Mozart’s wife (Elizabeth Berridge) come to his apartment and strip naked. There were several moments during this scene when a fart would have been like the grace note at the end of a fantastic symphony (perhaps even a Mozart symphony! BOOM!). Instead, we just had to endure a fartless boob scene – in my opinion, the worst kind of boob scene.

If you have an overpowering need to watch a movie where the people all wear ridiculous costumes and wigs, try Marie Antoinette (but only the parts with Rip Torn in it).

THE GREEN HORNET

the-green-hornet2011 – Seth Rogen-esque rich kid Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) inherits his father’s media empire and teams up with his mechanic/valet Kato (Jay Chou) to become a crime fighter. It’s Knocked Up meets Kick-Ass.

There are some movies that I secretly take pleasure in, but that the vast majority of people really dislike. This dissonance in opinion is so striking that it makes me feel guilty for liking the movie. I came up with the term “guilty pleasure” to describe this type of situation, and I think the phrase has a certain ring to it. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, any snuff film, The Green Hornet – all might be classified as “guilty pleasures.”

I can understand how the concept of “Seth Rogen in a big-budget superhero action movie” didn’t translate into box office gold. But having watched the movie a couple times, I have to ask myself: is The Green Hornet as bad as its reviews and reputation suggest? Can it be any less entertaining than the superhero schlock that we’ve been forced to endure in the years since its release? Let’s delve into it, you and I, and see whether this black sheep of the superhero genre deserves a second look.

What Worked (Like killing off Judi Dench’s ‘M’)

James Franco’s Uncredited Cameo

Yep, that’s noted soap opera actor James Franco playing cocky drug dealer “Crystal” Clear. His one scene, in which he delivers a scathing critique of gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky (Chrisoph Waltz), is one of the highlights of the movie. Honestly, I think The Green Hornet would have turned out better if it had just been those two characters talking in a room for an hour and a half.

Jay Chou as Kato

If there’s one thing the screenplay got right, it’s how they handled Kato’s character. It would have been very easy to drop him into one of many buckets – the devoted servant, the wise Asian guy, the serious martial arts master – but the script goes deeper. He’s an expert fighter and master mechanic, but he’s also socially awkward and has a hard time making friends.

I love the awkward scene where Kato gives Britt Reid a gas gun – the implication being that Reid is a crappy fighter and needs a ridiculous device like that. Britt is suspicious; Kato tries to pass it off as a compliment: “But… you’re so special.” Chou’s delivery is spot-on.

Cameron Diaz Being Old

Damn. Diaz was 38 or 39 when this movie came out, playing a character who is supposed to be 36, and looking about 45. Her appearance here, of course, recalls to mind The Mask (made 20 years earlier). The comparisons are not flattering.

Her character, Lenore Case, is Britt Reid’s new intern at the family newspaper. At first I thought the movie was trying to put her over as the “hot young thing” she used to be. But it pulled a fast one on me when Britt goes on a bizarre, Michael Scott-esque tangent about how she’s pursuing an intern position in “her twilight.” It’s a smart, self-aware moment and really helps sell her character.

(Most) Fight Sequences

The fight scenes are highly stylized and really unlike anything you’ll see in a superhero movie. There are crazy zooms, the camera swoops around, objects and people are highlighted… it really helps you imagine what the fight looks like to Kato’s trained eyes.

 

Scumbag Politician Character

Yeah yeah, I know everybody loves David Harbour now because of Stranger Things, but I appreciated him long before for his turn as District Attorney Scanlon. Harbour plays the role with a chilling sort of blase cynicism; the scene where he tells Britt to slant the news “so we both benefit” is especially eye-opening today, given the incestuous relationship the American press has with a certain legendarily corrupt presidential candidate.

What Didn’t Work (Like Viggo Mortensen after Lord of the Rings)

The Opening Title

It’s just plain white text that fades in and out during one of the first scenes. Uninspiring. The end titles are much better.

Britt Reid vs. Kato

If a superhero movie is going to have a ridiculous all-out fight sequence… why would you have it be between the hero and his sidekick? It’s silly, it goes on far too long, and it distracts from the urgency that the actual plot was building.

Seth Rogen

This is, obviously, the big one. While I respect him for getting in shape (sort of) and giving the role his all, the critical flaw of The Green Hornet is that it stars Seth Rogen. The guy plays a character who is supposed to start out as unlikable, matures over the course of the film, and ends up being a hero we can all root for. The problem is, he’s never that likable. Is it the gravelly voice or the doofy chuckle or the rubbery face? I don’t know. I just know that I don’t really like it.

As a screenwriter, Rogen also couldn’t resist injecting a little of his “describe exactly what’s happening” style of comedy. In the middle of a pretty exciting car chase, he remarks, “These guys are amazingly well organized.” Moments like that are 1) not funny, 2) distracting, and 3) just sloppy writing. Seth should really have had someone else – maybe someone who’s made movies like this before – give the script a sweep and clean up the “slacker comedy” bits.

What Was Just Awkward (Like a fat girl in a Harley Quinn costume)

The Reid Family Being So Rich

Britt’s dad ONLY owns a newspaper, but he has an immense mansion and a basement full of classic sports cars. Back in the 1940s, this might have been believable; nowadays, it’s odd to think that the owner of an independent newspaper could be so fantastically wealthy.

Chudnofsky

It must have been quite a coup to snag Christoph Waltz – it’s his first movie role after BasterdsIn the past I know I’ve criticized him for always playing the same character and, well, will you be shocked if I reveal that he essays the role of an eccentric foreign criminal who is somehow charming and likable despite his brutality?

His sub-plot – which is, admittedly, a unique approach – is that he’s having a mid-life crisis. People keep saying he doesn’t dress cool enough or that he’s not as scary as the Green Hornet, which really eats at him. You can tell Waltz is doing his best to portray a guy who’s slowly coming unhinged, but he just doesn’t have enough time. Chudnofsky and his gangster associates seem like almost an afterthought, and by the time they really step to the fore, the movie is practically over. This movie forgot the old adage that a hero is only as great as the villain he overcomes.

In Conclusion…

This is probably the most words you’ll ever read about The Green Hornet, and for that I apologize… but all things considered, the movie isn’t that bad. It’s actually kinda good, if you give it a chance.

So, give it a chance.

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.

MAN UP

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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.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

independence-day-title2016 – 20 years after the events of the first film, the aliens return and the exact same things happen. 

Nothing like striking while the iron is hot, right? Demand for a mega-blockbuster sequel to a 20-year-old film starring Jeff Goldblum has NEVER BEEN HIGHER! Resurgence is like that Lego castle you had as a kid: it might have worked great the first time, but now that decades have gone by you realize that the dog chewed up some of the pieces and a lot of the others are missing.

Much like The Force Awakens, this movie makes the tragic mistake of assuming we WANT to see the youthful stars of yesterday as the tired old revenants of today. President Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the speech-making ace from the first movie, is now shambling around like a crazy stroke victim. Vivica A. Fox is unrecognizable. The only returning cast member who hasn’t degenerated drastically is Judd Hirsch. The man doesn’t look a day older than he did in 1996, and he seemed really old back then! And Will Smith is just nowhere to be seen.

But don’t worry! The movie has a metric ton of new characters for us to not care about! Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) is a devil-may-care ace pilot whose incredible skill is only equaled by his bad-boy attitude! Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) is the son of Will Smith’s character, so you know you have to like him despite his total lack of personality and charisma! Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the old President’s daughter, is somehow in love with Morrison and is ALSO an ace fighter pilot herself! Take THAT, boys!

Alright, so we’ve got the requisite young heartthrob heroes, the girl who’s amazing, and the old geezers who don’t get to do cool stuff anymore. That’s not nearly enough supporting characters. Quick, dial up a Bill Duke knockoff to play a stereotype African warlord character (Deobia Oparei)! Get me an unfunny comic relief best buddy (Travis Tope)! Heck, get me TWO unfunny comic relief guys (Nicolas Wright)! In fact, get me THREE (Brent Spiner) even if the guy’s character seemed to get killed in the first movie! Get me a bunch of no-name kids on a bus, and a bunch of foreign guys on a boat, and a Chinese girl who is ALSO a badass pilot because having ONE girl who’s a badass pilot isn’t enough! AND DAMMIT SOMEONE GET ME A FEMALE PRESIDENT (Sela Ward) BECAUSE NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN THAT BEFORE!

Whew. Okay. I think our cast is complete. Except for William Fichter, but he can be anyone. Some military guy of indeterminate rank and authority? Fine.

The film expends incredible effort in trying to turn minor characters from the first movie into compelling leads this time around. The Jeff Goldblum character’s annoying old dad and Brent Spiner’s not-deceased scientist get major storylines of their own. This is so blatant that I’m surprised they didn’t dig up Randy Quaid’s kids and have them defend the family farm or something.

Do I even need to explain the plot? We thought we’d defeated all the aliens, but another, even MORE gigantic ship arrives to attack Earth. They’re after our planet’s molten core, and they’re prepared to make every mistake they made the first time in order to get it. This includes, but is not limited to, allowing us to fly our ships into their mother ship, allowing us to use their own ships against them, and not realizing we’re using Area 51 as a base.

The first 45 minutes of this movie are solid entertainment, and the special effects are incredible. Unfortunately, the next hour + are absolute, eye-rolling, “come on!”-inducing dreck. When we finally see the aliens, they’re completely CG and look much more fake than the practical effects from the first movie. Seeing a really crappy computer effect does not carry the same sense of physical menace.

The writing is abominable. Every character is instantly established as a “type” and left to simmer – the Righteous Native Black Warrior, the Wimpy Repressed Office Guy, the Goofy Doddering Old Jewish Man… it’s a real insult to the intelligence of the audience. The movie also introduces the idea of a “queen alien” – something I’m pretty sure has never been explored in a science fiction film before. I mean, “queen alien”? Doesn’t sound familiar at all.

This is the most sterile, white-washed blockbuster you’ll ever see. The film desperately swerves away from any hint of risk or controversy, delivering a swear-less, boob-less, virtually on-screen death-less snooze-fest. What it does deliver are odd echoes of scenes from the first movie, like the “dog rescue” scene and the “tearful death” scene and the “inspiring Bill Pullman speech” scene and the “character sacrifices himself so that others might live” scene.

Perhaps the most insulting part of the movie is the dreadful set-up for a sequel at the end. I won’t give it away, on the off chance that you make it that far, but it’s even worse than the “battle for Middle-Earth is about to begin” line from The Two Towers. It’s bad.

Studios seem to have limitless time and resources when it comes to resurrecting these long-dead films and franchises. Unfortunately, like a certain “Pet Sematary,” these things are coming back wrong. And we, the audiences, are the ones who suffer the most.

IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY

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2012 – A hat-wearing stick figure named Bill contemplates his life in the sometimes-beautiful, oftentimes-nightmarish world of his own failing memory.

That plot summary may not be accurate. The movie may be about something else entirely, or it may be about nothing. Think of it as the most depressing episode of Seinfeld you’ve ever seen, with no Jerry, Kramer, or Elaine. It’s just George, trapped in his own private world of insecurity, depression, and minutiae, striving to rise above the stale miasma of everyday life but lacking the insight and temerity to do it.

“But then he wondered if, realistically, this WAS his life, and the unusual part was his time spent doing other things.”

There’s a story being told here (Bill may be dying from some unspecified illness), but it’s told out of order and meanders down various unrelated tangents. We see most of the action through asymmetric holes cut out of the encroaching darkness. The images range from stark and simple, to beautiful, to horrifying. I don’t know what the technical term is, but I like to think of this animation style as “squiggly, like Dr. Katz.”

Despite the crudity of the images, some of them become unexpectedly beautiful. In one scene, when Bill receives a bad diagnoses, he removes his trademark hat and slowly runs a hand over his head. It’s heartbreaking.

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Writer, director, and animator Don Hertzfeldt mixes humor, horror, pathos, and hope in fairly equal measure, although the story has a tendency to veer into the grotesque and the bizarre.

"In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week."

“In the middle of the night she opens the drawer to find the preserved cat head from last week.”

As the narrative slowly winds its way along, we discover that Bill’s memory is starting to fail him, and some of the things we’ve seen (including flashbacks to Bill’s childhood) may never have actually happened. There’s a lot of musing about the nature of time (“The passing of time is just an illusion, because all of eternity is taking place all at once“), life, and death (“Each cell in the body replaces itself and dies as the years pass“). You become convinced that it means something.

You have no idea what that “something” is.

Yes, it’s one of those movies: the kind that’s kinda quirky, funny, and depressing, but that ultimately leaves you with the suspicion that even the creator didn’t know what the hell he was going for. Kinda like a Wes Anderson movie.

As a long-time stick figure fan, I give It’s Such A Beautiful Day credit for the way it makes us care for poor Bill. For most viewers, however, it’ll seem too bizarre and disjointed to be regarded as anything more than a deep Netflix curiosity.