Tagged: movie

Box Office Democracy: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Bryan Singer was making watchable superhero movies when no one else was and because of that I want to give him a lot of slack.  I’ve even mostly forgotten Superman Returns ever happened.  I liked more about X-Men: Days of Future Past than I didn’t but there’s a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that if this were a movie by a less famous director I would be ripping it apart instead of trying to patch the pieces together.

The plot is so much of a continuity nightmare that I spent a fair amount of time wondering if it was a bizarre homage to mid-90s X-Men comics.  I’m not sure anything in the first two movies holds up at all anymore and I’m quite curious when exactly Mystique decided she wanted to look like Rebecca Romijn instead of Jennifer Lawrence as most people are pretty much done changing physically in their late 20s.  An awful lot of characters that act like they have no history at all in the first X-Men film had apparently been hanging out regularly for some 30 years before it started.  I understand this is the consequence of a movie series lasting 14 years and starting before every superhero franchise had to be a well-crafted franchise but I can’t ignore that this movie now exists in a world with those well-crafted franchises in it and it just all feels so unpolished.

There are also some insane contrivances in service of the plot.  Charles Xavier doesn’t have his psychic powers because he’s hooked on Hank McCoy’s mutant heroin that lets him walk.  I’m not bringing external baggage with that heroin comparison as it is absolutely dripping off the screen.  I could have lived and died without needing to see Professor X tying off a vein.  Wolverine is also incapacitated by a traumatic flashback during a scene where he could have easily fixed everything that goes wrong and sets up the third act.  The Wolverine I know and love from the comics isn’t quite so delicate and I’m really not buying that time travel makes someone so consistently portrayed as hard this emotionally vulnerable.

X-Men has the most star power of any film franchise and the cast really shines in this one.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are, again, amazing as Xavier and Magneto and watching them have more and more emotionally charged scenes as their friendship moves toward the enmity that will define their relationship going forward.  Hugh Jackman has to carry a lot of plot in this one and he does it while still managing to radiate Wolverine in that way he’s done so much.  While rebooting the series might clean up some of the continuity and put them on equal footing there’s something about having people like Jackman (and Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and even Shawn Ashmore) inhabiting these roles for a decade and a half that serves the belivability of a movie about people who can walk through walls and turn in to metal.

Spoiler: Like every movie that involves time travel, X-Men: Days of Future Past ends with a scene where the main character comes back to see the changes he’s made.  In this movie one of the first ways Wolverine knows that he’s in the good future instead of the bad one is that Bobby Drake is dating the person he’d rather he be with.  A touching moment but also a shout out to the ‘ship culture of the Internet I thought.  A moment of “hey, Wolverine is just like us” thrown in to what is otherwise a bit of a soft reboot.  It’s not good or bad it’s just interesting and that is, unfortunately where a little too much of this film ends up.



Tweeks: Testing out Disney’s “Million Dollar Arm”

MILLION DOLLAR ARM With last week’s scorching temps and Fire days off from school (yes, California kids get Fire Days like other kids get Snow Days), The Tweeks feel like it’s already summer – and summer means baseball and movie theatres with the A/C turned up high.  So this week they review Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.


Do We Need To Talk About Spider-Man? And Other Superhero Movies Too?

Do We Need To Talk About Spider-Man? And Other Superhero Movies Too?

Criminy. Devin Faraci sitsus down for “the talk”.

Is this simple sequel fatigue and diminishing returns, or is it possible that we might be seeing the first superhero movie domino fall?

Suddenly, a lot more seems to be riding on X-Men: Days Of Future Past this weekend…

Jen Krueger: Mindless Monster Movies

Before Godzilla had even been out for 24 hours, I was already hearing mixed feedback about it. Some people I know enjoyed themselves while watching it, but the more vocal reaction I’ve encountered is disappointment that the characters and story aren’t strong enough for it to be a good movie. And though I have to preface this by saying that I’ve yet to see it and could end up being disappointed by it myself, I do have something to say to the people that are complaining about the narrative shortcomings of Godzilla:

Get your expectations in line with the movie you’re watching!

Of course, I’m all for monster movies that have characters with dimension and stories without gaping plot holes, but when I sit down to watch something with a kaiju in it, all that needs to happen for me to be satisfied is for that kaiju to rampage. I want to see a city get attacked, and a fight ensue to take down the kaiju (preferably one in which another huge monster or some kind of huge machine is the kaiju’s opponent). If I happen to care about the fate of the humans that serve as the audience’s entry into the story, that’s honestly just gravy.

But as someone who’s usually complaining about hollow characters or narrative shortcomings in other blockbusters, why is it that I don’t take issue with similar problems when it comes to monster movies? Because it’s one of very few genres in which I think the characters are completely secondary to other aspects of the movie. Sure, superhero films must have set piece action sequences and exciting stunts to be successful, but they also must get the viewer to take the hero’s side in those sequences, because even a team of superheroes working together is still a fight involving several individuals against an antagonizing force. Monster movies, though, pit all of humanity against a terror from space or the sea, and the specific characters involved in the fight against them are basically incidental since they could be replaced by any other pilot, politician, or unlucky civilian tasked with the same plan to eliminate the kaiju.

Even with my (fairly low) requirements for a monster movie to satisfy me, there have certainly been some offerings that didn’t live up to my expectations. In its trailers, Cloverfield promised a monster movie unlike any I’d ever seen, but delivered on that promise by barely letting me see the monster. I expected unparalleled destruction, but got far too much time spent with people I didn’t care about running through tunnels. And despite the signs of destruction around the protagonists, I was too embedded with them to get the sense of large-scale damage and combat that I crave from a kaiju. With no real monster money shot, I left the theater underwhelmed and had to wait five years for one that really lived up to what I crave in this genre. With multiple kaiju and a bunch of giant robots, Pacific Rim seemed to never go more than fifteen minutes without showing one smashing into the other, and became the monster movie to which I’ll compare all future offerings.

While Godzilla advertises itself as a single kaiju movie and (as far as I know) has no giant robots as part of the scheme to take it out, it at least makes its single monster enormous and destructive enough to plow through bridges and swat away combat vehicles as if they were pesky insects. It’s enough to get me in the theater, and as long as the eponymous kaiju doesn’t have a silly weakness that brings it down too easily in the end, I’m sure I’ll have a great time watching it. And if all else fails, at least Transformers 4 is only about a month away. It may not have a monster, but it has a giant robot riding a robot dinosaur, which is obviously the next best thing.

Box Office Democracy: “Godzilla”

Box Office Democracy: “Godzilla”

I needed Godzilla to give me more monster fights.  Not monsters destroying cities or people running from monsters but monsters fighting monsters.  They knew that’s what I wanted too because sequences would build to those moments where two kaiju would look at each other, screech, and charge at each other only for the camera to cut away to some human doing some dumb thing or another.  I know that this movie already cost $160 million and that’s with almost no money spent on cast so I have to assume they put all the special effects in that they could but this movie made almost $200 million in its first weekend and I assure you I do not care what the humans are doing in Godzilla, not even a little bit.

The monsters look fantastic.  I tried to parse exactly how they made them through studying the credits and it seems to be some alchemical combination of digital effects and performance capture and I can’t stress enough how perfect and plausible they look.  It probably helps that they are usually in dark smoky environments but it works better than any attempt I’ve seen with the possible exception of Pacific Rim and this is certainly trying for a grittier, more realistic look than Rim was going for.  The climactic fights are over-the-top brutal but all the way through I was impressed at how it looked like these massive creatures had actual weight and interacted with their environment in consistently plausible ways.  A sequel has already been greenlit and I’m beyond excited to see where they go with these monsters.

The humans are another matter entirely.  I mean, I guess they always look like they have weight and they interact with their environment in a plausible manner but I’m not sure they ever really affect the story.  You could take the actions of every human being out of this movie and it would affect the outcome not at all.  Nothing the humans do to stop the rampaging monsters is successful on any level.  In fact, the climactic actions of the main human character, Lieutenant Ford Brody, only serve to save people from a mistake the humans made earlier in the film.  Godzilla is the title character and he solves the problem all by himself.  I never quite got invested in the drama they tried to insert with Brody and his wife or Brody and his son or Brody and some strange other child.  I completely failed to care at all about the faceless, practically nameless, other military operatives.  I only cared a little about Dr. Serizawa because Ken Wantanabe played him and I honestly can’t tell you what happened to that character in the third act.  Everyone just sort of fades away in the backdrop of better monster action.  As much as I want to see them expand on the monster action I want them to throw all the other characters in this movie and start over with every entry.

A common lament about film in the last decade or so is that every film is either a remake or a sequel and no one is willing to try new things.  While there is undeniable truth to this, Godzilla is proof that there are plenty of new ideas and good movies to be made from old properties.  This is as different from the original film as is possible with only passing similarity to what came before.  It would be a huge mistake for anyone to dismiss this as creatively bankrupt when it’s such a fresh take on a property that was honestly run in to the ground by The Toho Company some time ago.  This is a fantastic action movie and one worthy of praise no matter what its origins are.


Dennis O’Neil: SHIELD, Arrow, and Superstuff

Both prime time comic-book based television series had their season finales this week, a day or two after I write this, and so any commentary on them might be premature. I mean, maybe some humungous game changer is in the offing, some gobsmacking surprise that will leave us gasping for breath, numbed and awed by the storytelling splendor we have just witnessed.

Or maybe not.

The shows I refer to are, of course, Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow, and although they are, as noted above, comics-derived, they aren’t two heads of the same critter. I think that Arrow is the more… well – I’m lacking precise terminology here, so let’s call Arrow the more “comicbooky” of the two. It is all about superheroes, comics’ prime export: one such hero in particular the Arrow of the show’s title, who wears a costume and has a double identity and has tricks up his sleeve – his quiver? – that might make an Olympic archer seek another sport. And over the months he’s acquired some friends who might qualify as superheroes and some enemies that might qualify as supervillains. SHIELD, on the other hand, is a hybrid, a series that occurs in a world where superheroes exist, but which is not about superheroes per se. (And yes, o astute reader, I did exile a bunch of periods from the show’s name. Sue me.) The SHIELDers aren’t super themselves, but they’ve got some supers in their Rolodexes.

I mentioned game changers a couple of paragraphs ago. Both Arrow and SHIELD have already changed the game a bit. SHIELD, as part of a nifty crossover with a movie, has gone from being a CIA/NSA-type spook organization to being a bunch of noble folk running from the authority figures, outlawed by the baddies’s takeover of whatever agency controls SHIELD. (I confess that I’ve never quite understood who signs SHIELD paychecks. A U.S. government honcho? Somebody as the United Nations? A scientologist?)

Some of you may want to read political commentary into SHIELD’s status change. Be my guest.

Arrow’s game has also changed, on a smaller scale than SHIELD’s, but kind of drastically nonetheless. The storyline replicated some comic book stuff from years – nay, decades – back. To wit: bow-twanging hero Oliver Queen loses his fortune. He’s no longer a member of the one percent. No more rich kid. I don’t know why the television guys made the change and, after all these years, I’m not sure why we comic bookers did, either. Maybe so our archer would be less like Batman/Bruce Wayne. Maybe to give him some (fictitious) street cred. Or maybe we just weren’t all that fond of mansion dwellers. Or… all of the above?

To end on a what-the-hell-difference-does-that-make note: In the comics, the Arrow was the Green Arrow, as many of you know. I approve of the renaming. I mean, why green?


Box Office Democracy: “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return”

Box Office Democracy: “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return”

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is simply irredeemable. I’ve been sitting in front of a blank Word document for over an hour trying to figure out where to start and have experienced new waves of outrage every time I think of another part of the movie. The characters are bad, the story is basically nonsense, it’s ugly, the songs are bad, even the credits are confusing. I don’t know another way to judge this movie to make it look like a success. The 3D stereography didn’t make me want to throw up. That’s the best I can do.

The movie opens by explaining that the filmmakers had no understanding of the story from The Wizard of Oz. Having gotten their gifts from The Wizard in the first film Scarecrow is now a super genius, Lion is ready to fight literally every adversary he meets and Tin Man expresses big emotional responses to even the most trivial events. In this universe The Wizard was not telling these characters that they had these qualities in them all along he literally made them all the best at all of these things by magic. It also means they have none of the character traits they had in any other media you might be familiar with them from. These characters feel like the supporting characters from a bad 90s Saturday morning cartoon.


Things crashing into other things: or, my superhero movie problem

The problem with the superhero movie as currently practiced by Disney/Marvel (the interlocking “universe” series) and Sony/Marvel (“The Amazing Spider Man” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) and DC (whose recent “Man of Steel” aped that Marvel feeling and is busy building its own version of Marvel’s feature film universe) has nothing to do with the genre’s component parts, and everything to do with execution.

Specifically, the problem is the visual and rhythmic sameness of the films’ execution.

via Things crashing into other things: or, my superhero movie problem by Matt Zoller Seitz. Read the whole thing. My favorite quote:

What do “Little Big Man,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Silverado,” “Unforgiven” and “Open Range” have in common besides horses and ten-gallon hats? Almost nothing. What do modern superhero movies have in common? Entirely too much. Once in a great while you get an outlier like “Hellboy” or “Watchmen” or “Kick-Ass.” There’s a reason why anybody seeking to counter gripes of superhero film sameness brings up “Hellboy” or “Watchmen” and “Kick-Ass”: because most superhero movies are not “Hellboy” or “Watchmen” or “Kick-Ass.” They’re “Thing Crashing Into Other Thing 3.”

Jen Krueger: Permanent Pop Culture

Jen Krueger: Permanent Pop Culture

My friend Dave has decided to get a tattoo of a Recognizer from Tron. It’ll be his first (and probably only) tattoo, and I wasn’t at all surprised that’s what he wanted when finally making the plunge into getting ink. But while it’s far from the first time I’ve encountered the idea of a pop culture tattoo, Dave’s Recognizer is the first instance of a pop culture tattoo that hasn’t made me cringe a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I love tattoos. It’s just that, oxymoronic as it may sound, I’m kind of traditional when it comes to them. I dig the old maritime culture of tattoo designs that are like badges of particular skills or experiences, and while I don’t have anything against the idea of getting ink just for fun or decorative adornment, I tend to look at tattoos today more as an opportunity to represent something meaningful and personal. So no matter how well done the tattoos themselves are, whenever I’ve seen photos of Marvel back pieces, Disney sleeves, or Nintendo chest pieces, my first reaction tends to be an assumption that they’ll one day be regretted. As much as I may love certain comics, movies, or games, I’ve found it hard to imagine someone would really want the Avengers, a collection of princesses, or a bunch of video game bosses on them forever.

That being said, I didn’t bat an eyelash when my friend James decided on a Fahrenheit 451 tattoo. Ray Bradbury is his favorite author, and Fahrenheit 451 his favorite Bradbury work, so the burning paper man illustration from one of the Fahrenheit 451 covers struck me as the perfect choice for James when it came to putting an image permanently on his body. But if it’s this easy for me to understand getting a tattoo that references a book, shouldn’t a tattoo referencing a comic, movie, or game be just as easy for me to understand? After all, they’re all pieces of entertainment, and I’m sure there are people who love the Hulk or Ariel or Mario just as much as James loves Bradbury. If I cringe at the idea of a pop culture tattoo but like the idea of a literary one, am I being a snob?

I don’t think so. Because I don’t think it really has anything to do with the content at all. It’s actually about the relationship to the content, and how likely that relationship is to change.

Get me talking about Doctor Who and it’s immediately apparent I’m a huge fan. It’s definitely my favorite show, has been for a number of years at this point, and I’d even go so far as to say the Doctor is one of the best television characters I’ve ever encountered. But no matter how much I love Doctor Who, I’d never consider getting a Who tattoo. Even though I’ll likely always love the episodes I do at this moment, the still-evolving state of the franchise means I can’t be sure I’ll always love the show as a whole. If I put a TARDIS on my arm today and next season goes in a direction I hate, I not only get disappointed by a show I love, I also get a permanent reminder of that disappointment. Comics and video games go through the same amount of (if not more) evolution as TV shows, and though non-franchise movies are less likely to be subjected to it, the popularity of the reboot is high enough that I’d be hard-pressed to be positive a movie I love won’t end up mangled in the future with a remake or sequel.

Books, on the other hand, are obviously much less fluid. Sure, a series of novels can go through as much evolution as a TV show, comic, movie franchise, or game franchise, but with fewer hands at the helm of a series of novels than tend to be involved in most other forms of entertainment, I find it easier to assume I’ll like the next book in a series than I do to assume I’ll like the next offering of something I’ve previously enjoyed in one of these other fields. Shift the focus to stand-alone novels, and I can say with certainty that whenever my feelings about a book have changed, they’ve only become more positive over time. If there was an obvious and simple visual to be pulled from my favorite book, I probably would’ve gotten a tattoo of it years ago because I can be so confident my love for it is a lifelong love.

So what was it about Dave’s Recognizer tattoo idea that kept me from cringing? Knowing that for him, the tattoo is about more than Tron. His love for the movie stems not just from the film itself, but also from the fact that his first experience with it was special because of who shared it with him. This kind of love for a piece of entertainment is the caveat I was overlooking in the past when considering pop culture tattoos, and it’s made me realize there may have been more meaning to some ink I’ve seen and assumed wasn’t very personal. From now on, I’ll look a little harder for the story behind these kind of tattoos. But if there isn’t one to be found, I won’t feel bad about reverting to a cringe.

Box Office Democracy: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Movies based on comic books have had to fight a practically never-ending battle for respectability but, for now at least, it seems that they’ve won.  Superheroes are hot commodities at the box office and studios have embraced the idea that making them more like their source material is preferable to making movies that anger the core fanbase for an attempt to appeal to the mainstream.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is what happens when that faithfulness goes too far and instead of making a simple movie filmmakers try and cram in all of the ancillary subplots of an ongoing series with none of the capacity to pay any of those threads off.