Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer)

Wolverine to Mystique: "Let's reboot this shit, bub!"

Before anything else, let me just say, with utter conviction, that “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not the masterful “X-Men” movie that many people are making it out to be, because Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class” is leagues better. And, yes, screw those who think otherwise. I’m not kidding. No, really, I’m just playing with you. Now stop staring at me as if I killed Kennedy!

Seriously though, while I don’t really get the enormous hype surrounding this film, I understand why it’s easy for people to label this one as the greatest “X-Men” movie out there. Of course, one of the obvious reasons is its merging of the actors from the original trilogy and those from the prequel into one tremendous ensemble cast. Another is Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise after Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood have turned it into a watered-down joke (even now, I still can’t believe what they did to Deadpool *shudders*). Superficial reasons, those two.

But with that being said, I think it’s quite fair to say that you still can’t go wrong with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” in terms of entertainment, which is often kept crisp by its ambitious thematic flourishes. Yet sadly, narrative issues prevent it from truly being superior to its predecessors. Though this qualm of mine can be heavily attributed to the film’s complete disregard for continuity issues and character inconsistencies (the last time I checked, Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat enters walls, not people’s minds), what I’m pretty sure about is that this is the densest “X-Men” movie of the bunch. However, it has so much going on with it that instead of its narrative strands adding up for a highly satisfactory experience, there’s a feeling that the film, as a whole, never really pushed the envelope further when there’s more than enough space for it. In some ways, Bryan Singer, with a potential super-epic in his hands, has squandered the chance by instead playing it safe, with his intention not on delivering a staggering superhero masterwork but only on rebooting the very franchise he himself has initially helmed. Like a social worker who has handed out a pack of salty instant noodles to a hungry, malnourished refugee, Bryan Singer has fed the franchise and gave it an additional jolt of life, but nothing really long-term, for its continuity issues will always come back to haunt it.

The film, as what is admittedly posh among superhero movies nowadays to bolster their cinematic self-importance, heavily tinkers with history, and for that, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” instantly elevates itself as a different kind of superhero film. But unlike “Watchmen”, for example, which maximizes its use of historical events by integrating them within a most potent and well-built alternate reality, “Days of Future Past’s” dose of history is but a nostalgic ornament, used only to support the story’s “Terminator-like” time-travel gimmick. Also, the way the story tells us that Magneto is involved in JFK’s assassination, unlike how “X-Men: First Class” fits perfectly into the whole Cold War subplot, is a bit forced and inorganic, especially when, you know, “Watchmen” has already made use of that shocking historical event as an interesting plot nugget some years ago. Though on a positive note, they absolutely nailed Richard Nixon this time around without using much prosthetic on the nose part.

In addition, the plot also seems to be so focused on Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) being this fate-altering wildcard that Magneto, somnambulistically played by Michael Fassbender, has no choice but to relegate himself to a side villain role despite the fact that the story, if logic is to be followed, dictates that he should be fighting alongside Charles Xavier for survival’s sake. Instead, what he did was telephatically lift a big-ass football stadium, drop it on the White House to trap Richard Nixon and Henry Kiss-Ass-inger, among others, and discourse about mutant respect while being a bit of an ass about it. With him being listed as the number one greatest comic book villain of all time in a list I’ve read quite a long time ago, Bryan Singer and company should have known that Magneto is much better (and wiser) than that. And don’t tell me that he’s merely being his younger, reckless self in this film to excuse his nonsensical Mojo Jojo-like actions. Man, Joker was already as sharp as a shiv and on the brink of breaking both Batman’s sanity and the entire moral fiber of Gotham in “The Dark Knight” and he was not even 30 yet during that time.

But despite all those (it’s really not possible to write a review about this film filled with nothing but rants), the franchise (not just this film) was still more than successful in rebooting itself without recasting any major lead characters or starting from scratch again. When the whole superhero world is scrambling on fast-tracking a remake of this and a reboot of that, the “X-Men” franchise has remained confident about the universe it has built, privy of the numerous shit it has churned out but also aware of the gems it has intermittently created all throughout these years. Though Rebecca Romjin’s blue-scaled seductress will always be my Mystique and Ray Park’s tongue-lashing badass my Toad, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, though slightly uncalled for, has made the necessary changes to make the franchise more appealing to a new generation of audience. I mean, come on, who would not want to see Jennifer Lawrence in an uber-fit bodysuit?

But on a more serious note, given the film’s star-studded cast, I was surprised that there really weren't any standout performances in it, except for Evan Peters, maybe, who truly rocked his Quicksilver turn, specifically in THAT one scence, which would give the Wachowski siblings a run for their money. Go watch it for yourself. Tyrion Lannister, err, Peter Dinklage, also shines as the hard-to-hate villain Bolivar Trask, who just wants to murder millions to save billions by way of his giant sentinel dudes. Such a sweetie, this guy is, “Watchmen’s” Ozymandias will be happy. A little trivia: Trask was first played by Bill Duke (!) in “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Google him if you may. Now that’s some epic recast.

The CGI fight sequences, although good, are oftentimes too dark and hard to follow, and the sentinels’ bodies sometimes contort in physiologically unrealistic ways. And, seriously, do they really need to recast William Stryker again? I know, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is pure dung, but Danny Huston has done a more than decent job in portraying Stryker in it that they should have just used him again instead.

All in all, though I have lots of complaints toward “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, I still thoroughly enjoyed the film for what it is, which is an ambitious, thinking man’s superhero film. In the end, it all comes down to two things as to why I never liked the film that much: either I just was never a fan of “X-Men”, or I am just a much bigger fan of proper narrative continuity.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Godzilla (Gareth Edwards)

Kaiju badassery.

If last year’s “Pacific Rim” has offered more than a passing hint of kaiju nostalgia, then this year’s “Godzilla”, Gareth Evans’ modern and westernized take on the monstrous pop culture icon, gives out more than just a splotch of it. And if Roland Emmerich’s 1998 dud of a remake is more about shitting on the entirety of the monster’s mythology and, as much as possible, distancing itself away from its Japanese origins, this one right here, from the title card itself up to the way the music hits certain notes at key moments, is a faithful tribute through and through, if not a bit imbalanced. It boasts of high-end special effects that even the genre itself is yet to be fortunate enough to be often blessed with, and it can also be just as proud with its impressive cast, led by “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston and reliable Japanese character actor Ken Watanabe.

Just like the very first “Gojira” film in 1954, the “Godzilla” of today is focused on looking at the larger-than-life entity (literally) with a dominantly human perspective. We see Godzilla clash with his monstrous contemporaries (labeled as MUTOs – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), but often only through express train windows and TV screens and rarely through the ‘monster mash’ point of view that all of us are quite used to, kaiju film-wise (what with those miniature temples and electric posts); that is, until the super awesome final battle.

The problem, though, as what all the other reviewers have noticed, is that the grounded human characters aren’t all that interesting, to say the least. Sure, there’s the uber-talented Bryan Cranston, who often steals every scene (or even each film, for that matter) he’s in and always makes do with what little screen time he has, but his character is one hour gone too early for him to really set in and complement the kaiju action in the film with his acting power.

Aaron-Taylor Johnson, on the other hand, who has already proven his worth with leading roles such as in the “Kick-Ass” films and even in the John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy”, struggles because of generic writing, which hinders his character from really growing into someone whom you can really root for at the height of a monster takeover. I’m not a Roland Emmerich fan or anything, you know, but the German lad seems to always have a knack of letting his characters develop into on-screen people you can actually laugh, cry, and be valiant with, all while some form of natural disaster destroys famous landmarks in the background.

Aside from those mentioned above, I also have a slight issue about the film’s way of explaining certain plot details, with Watanabe, who is obviously not the greatest of English speakers, oddly being given the honor to deliver the film’s exposition-heavy dialogues. Maybe I’m asking too much now, but Cranston should have easily been given that task because, what the hell? That man can have an intense on-screen meltdown and still intelligibly discuss perhaps even the hardest parts of rocket science with great ease.

But with that being said, as a movie fan who’s really bent on having his money’s worth with a film entitled “Godzilla”, I was still more than impressed. I mean, do you really expect this film, which is essentially about an atomic-breathing dinosaur that often fights off monsters of varying sizes, to really go on great lengths to profoundly discourse about the human condition? Go grab a Tarkovsky film or something, you sniveling snob. This is about a prehistoric apex predator which destroys buildings and creatures slightly lower to him on the big-ass kaiju food chain on a whim, and the film never wasted a minute to visually tell us anything but that. Though there are mild attempts to show Godzilla’s connection with the human populace (there was a brief scene where the creature and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character shared a brief yet knowing glance), what the film is really recklessly careening into is the climactic kaiju battle that puts those in “Pacific Rim” to utter shame. And just like the moment when Gypsy Danger finally unleashed his retractable sword, “Godzilla” has pumped up my adrenaline level to an unbelievably crazy height, especially when I finally saw bluish hints slowly accumulating along the monster’s spine, which, as we all know, is followed by its atomic belch, err, breath.

If you’re looking for a monster film that fulfills its promises and more, “Godzilla” will never disappoint a living soul, except of course those who still strangely consider Emmerich’s version as some kind of canon and expect Godzilla to once again brainlessly wreak havoc on Manhattan and chase a merry band of survivors led by Ferris Bueller. If for anything else, “Godzilla” successfully shows a new generation of audience what a kaiju film is really all about while also letting us in on a crash course about the titular monster’s unpredictable heroism. Now, let us quietly close our eyes and forever erase from our memories 1998’s “Godzilla”, watch Toho bury the hell out of the weird, iguana-looking abomination from that wretched film in “Godzilla: Final Wars”, then drown it all out with this latest Godzilla’s beautiful growl, which is nothing short of music in the ears.

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