Sunday, May 25, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie X-Men: Days of Future Past

1. This is the most ambitious X-Men movie so far. And and while I liked it, it has the most problems of any X-Men movie so far.

2. It starts in the future, where all the mutants are being killed by giant robots called Sentinels. As a desperate last attempt at survival, they decide to send Wolverine's mind back in time 50 years to his younger self in order to stop Mystique from assassinating a scientist, which results in the creation of the Sentinels.

3. In order to stop the assassination, Wolverine (who, for some reason, does not look 50 years younger) must bring together Professor X and Magneto so they can find Mystique and do an intervention. They pick up a few other young mutants along the way.

4. The plot of the movie is basically a science fiction soap opera. While it fleshes out some of the X-Men universe nicely, the characters make nonsense decisions in order to needlessly stretch out the drama. And I can think of about a dozen other ways they could have stopped the creation of the Sentinels other than their half-baked "talk Mystique out of it" plan..

5. The action scenes are well-done and exciting, as are the special effects. While the X-Men characters are impossible and wildly unbalanced (I feel bad for the guy with the frog tongue), it's fun to watch them.

6. One problem with movie is that it's inconsistent - it breaks some of the rules that it sets up for itself, and mutants apparently develop new powers when they need to.

7. But the biggest problem with the movie is that it falls into the same trap that most time-travel movies do, especially when they are part of a series. Some scenes here should have happened in earlier movies, but they didn't. Some scenes in other movies shouldn't have happened, but they did. It's a continuity disaster.

8. The climax of the movie was so over-the-top and absurd that I just couldn't stop myself from rolling my eyes a few times.

9. This is not my favorite X-Men movie, but if you're a fan, it's worth seeing.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I, Frankenstein (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie I, Frankenstein

1. One of the worst movies of 2014, this movie is really only useful to recalibrate your critical skills so you can better identify movies that are actually good.

2. The first 2 minutes of the movie summarizes the original story of “Frankenstein”, and picks up where the creature is mourning the loss of Dr. Frankenstein. So the title character of the movie is dead within about 120 seconds. But whatever.

3. While the creature is standing at the grave of his creator he is attacked by demons, who want to collect him. And it turns out that all those stone gargoyles on churches are actually alive. Their mission on Earth is to fight the demons. Somehow, the gargoyles see the attack on the creature, and come to his aid.

4. Nine minutes into the movie, the creature is brought before the Gargoyle Queen, who realizes that the creature doesn’t have a name. So she names him Adam. At this point, the movie should probably be named “I, Adam”. But whatever.

5. The demon leader is played by Bill Nighy, who also plays the vampire leader in the “Underworld” series. The filmmakers don’t even pretend that they aren’t copying that formula.

6. The demons have been trying unsuccessfully for centuries to animate corpses, but even with all the modern technology they can’t figure out how to do it. They desperately want Dr. Frankenstein’s scientific diary, since he reanimated a corpse simply with a tub of eels and a little lightning. They need the corpses so that demons from hell can possess them, since only bodies without souls can be possessed. Which completely invalidates all the other horror movies about possession and exorcism. But whatever.

7. At one point, the demons capture the Gargoyle Queen. This is bad for the gargoyles, because the Queen is the only one with a direct connection to Heaven. This seems to be pretty poor planning on God’s part. But whatever.

8. The special effects are not very impressive. The whole thing feels like a TV-movie. It’s not remotely suspenseful. During a pivotal scene where Adam confronts the demon leader, I was so not riveted that I paused the movie to check my Facebook.

9. There is something wrong with almost every single scene in the movie. It’s ridiculous. I actually think there’s a drinking game in here somewhere. But whatever.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About Godzilla

1. In 1954, Japan made the movie “Gojira”, about a giant monster with atomic breath that destroyed Tokyo. It was openly symbolic of the power and terror of atomic weapons, which Japan was so familiar with from World War II. The movie was re-edited and released in America with the name “Godzilla, King of the Monsters”, because “Godzilla” is what “Gojira” kind of sounds like to American ears. It cut out a lot of the nuclear themes and political overtones.

2. Even though Gojira/Godzilla was killed at the end of the movie, it was so popular that there was a sequel. He just suddenly wasn’t dead any more. Then the Japanese made 26 more Godzilla movies, and America made two more, (including the horrible Matthew Broderick version from 1998). I think I’ve seen most of those movies - Godzilla was a staple of my childhood.

3. In 2014, sixty years after the first movie, we have the 31st Godzilla movie. It’s called “Godzilla”. And it is a pretty kick-ass reboot that takes it old-school, all the way back to the original.

4. It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, who directed the really cool indie movie “Monsters” that nobody saw. If you are one of the few people that watched it, you would know Edwards was a good choice to bring Godzilla back.

5. It’s about an earthquake in the Philippines that wakes up some giant bug creature that is attracted to radiation. Seriously, it eats nuclear weapons. Anyway, it starts calling out to something… and Godzilla wakes up, hears it, and starts to hunt it (if you listen carefully, you will hear the Japanese expert scientist pronounce his name “Gojira” - and all the Americans immediately start saying “Godzilla”).

6. This is a pretty epic adventure film, with a real story. But that’s also my problem with the movie - there’s almost too much story. There’s hardly any room for the monsters. It takes an hour for Godzilla to officially show up.

7. When the monster battles do happen, they go big. They really bring back the feel and style of the old Japanese movies. And nobody can deny that Godzilla is still a boss.

8. The nuclear weapon theme is prominent in this movie, as it was in the original Japanese version. But there is an extra message too - humans don’t really run the planet. Godzilla and the other monsters work out their beef wherever they can, even if it is in a major American city. They have no feelings for or against humans. They don’t try to kill us, but if we get in their way, then too bad for us. Humans are proud and stupid and ultimately powerless against the raw forces of nature.

9. Except for the fact that we don’t see enough of the title character, “Godzilla” is a well done action-adventure giant monster movie. Fans of the old Godzilla should be pleased, and it may even hook a new generation of fans.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lilting (UK, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Lilting

1. This is a startlingly excellent examination of solitude and connection.

2. Set in England, it's about a young man, Richard, an elderly Cambodian woman, Junn, who speaks no English, and the dead man that ties them together.

3. Junn's son, Kai, recently put his mother in an assisted living home, because he could no longer care for her. Unbeknownst to her, Kai's best friend, Richard, is actually his long time boyfriend.

4. After Kai's sudden death, Richard feels obligated to help out Junn somehow, so he hires a young translator to help the blossoming relationship between Junn and another resident of the home, Allen.

5. As the four begin an awkward journey of getting to know each other, they inadvertently open hidden wounds... and pour salt in others.

6. The acting in the movie is impeccable. It's a small cast, and relatively unknown - at least here in the US. But I'd been waiting to see Ben Whishaw in something again ever since "Perfume" (no, I don't really count "Skyfall")

7. It's really hard to make a movie work when it's almost all talking around tables. The fact that half of it also needs to be verbally translated - on screen - makes it even worse. But I guess first-time director Hong Khaou didn't know this was supposed to be hard. He took this one all the way home.

8. Let's face it - this movie is going to be a hard movie to sell - "No really, it's good! It's about gays and Asians and old people talking to each other!" There's no violence or sex or scandal. There's not even an exciting soundtrack. And it's too bad that many people will miss this movie. It's one of the best depictions of the human experience that I've seen in a long time.

9. This movie is about the varying levels of isolation that people feel, and the intersections of those levels. It's a quiet, poetic, sad, masterpiece.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Legend of Hercules (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie The Legend of Hercules 

1. This is surely the most misnamed movie of the year. It has absolutely nothing to do with the real Hercules myths.

2. This is basically just another generic gladiator movie, except the names of the characters are taken from Greek mythology. You’ve seen this movie before. Multiple times.

3. It’s about a power-hungry, violent king named Amphitryon who takes lands just for the gold and the work he can get out of the people. His wife, Alcmene, thinks he’s pretty much a worthless dick. She makes a pact with the goddess Hera to have sex with her husband, the king of gods, Zeus. She wants a son to take out Amphitryon. Hera agrees to help Alcmene, and says the boy Hercules will be the savior of the people.
(In the real story, Zeus just takes Alcmene because he wants to, and Hera hates Hercules so much that she tries to kill him and makes his entire life miserable).

4. Hercules is born, and falls in love his brother’s girlfriend, Hebe, so he is sent to die on the battlefield. He survives, is sold into slavery, and becomes a gladiator. He tries to get back to Hebe before she marries his brother. Blah blah blah.

5. Hercules spends all but about 10 minutes of the movie being just a regular man. He doesn’t believe his mother when she tells him he’s the son of Zeus. It’s not until he is in trouble and cries to Zeus for help that he gets a burst of extra strength. Then he just throws boulders around or whips people with lightning for a minute.

6. The fight scenes are a straight rip-off of “300”. I admit they are cool to watch - as long as you aren’t tired of the slow motion pecs-and-swords thing.

7. A lot of the special effects seemed kind of cheap. Even Zeus, who could have been badass, is... invisible. Seriously. The scene where Zeus impregnates Alcmene is just Alcmene moving her arms and legs while the bed sheets swirl around.

8. You can tell a scene is dramatic because there’s either a lightning storm, or else weird snowflakes float through the air, even when it’s warm outside.

9. If they made the movie about the real legend of Hercules, This could have been something. Instead, it’s a bland, unoriginal piece of crap that I forgot I had watched by the next day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Excision (USA, 2012)

Nine Things about the Movie Excision

1. This bizarrely perverse movie is part family drama, part comedy, and part... grotesque. I really wasn't sure how to feel about it when it was over.

2. It's about Pauline, a ragingly awkward, mentally disturbed young woman who has orgasms when she dreams about herself and others being mutilated.

3. She lives in a dysfunctional upper-class household. Her younger sister Grace is slowly dying from cystic fibrosis, her mother Phyllis (played wonderfully by ex-porn star Traci Lords) is a frigid, pious bitch who browbeats her husband Bob incessantly.

4. The actress that plays Pauline, AnnaLynne McCord, gives an extremely strong performance here. Simultaneously hard to watch but impossible to look away, and she brings a unique tension to her role that I haven't seen before.

5. Knowing that there is something wrong with Pauline, but not wanting to send her to a real doctor, Phyllis has Pauline go to therapy with a church pastor (when John Waters plays a reverend, you know the movie is weird). This causes everyone to miss the increasingly obvious signs that Pauline is headed for a terrible resolution to her delusional life.

6. Pauline tries to make sense of her life by talking to God, even though she doesn't believe in him.

7. The scene where Pauline loses her virginity is one of the more memorable "first-time" scenes ever put on film.

8. The humor in the film is genuinely funny, but it feels out of place, given the rest of the story. This may be intentional, since it just increases the general sense of awkwardness and unease. The script also has an unorthodox intelligence; some of the details in the movie don't really make sense until several scenes later.

9. The more I think about the movie, the more I like it. It is beautifully filmed, uncomfortably violent, and uniquely strange. And I have to give it respect because it pulled emotions out of me that I really have no name for.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man 2 (USA, 2014)

Nine Things about the Movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2

1. I liked this movie more than I thought I would. It’s thoughtful, character-driven, and is perhaps the most human superhero movie I’ve seen. They changed a few things from the “official” Spider-man mythology, so of course, Marvel purist fans that can’t handle change will howl.

2. The movie has a lot of storylines going at the same time - Peter being Spider-man; Peter’s conflicted relationship with his girlfriend; the mystery of Peter’s father and his secret project; the introduction of Harry Osborne on his way to becoming the Green Goblin; and the creation of Electro. This makes the movie seem a little rushed sometimes (there is even a scene in the official trailer that would have added another subplot, but it doesn't appear in the actual movie).

3. The acting in this movie is awesome, particularly for a superhero movie. Almost everyone really nails their character, especially Andrew Garfield. He made Peter a real, confused, normal young man with a lot of issues.

4. Jamie Foxx is great as the mentally unstable electrical engineer that turns into electricity or whatever. From the trailer, I thought he would suck, but he turned out to be one of the best villains in this Spider-man world, because they gave him a really empathetic backstory.

5. The action scenes are great. The whole movie is beautiful to watch, and there are some really cool 3D parts. Especially the Electro scenes.

6. For a movie that is almost 2½ hours long, there are relatively few action sequences. There is a bigger focus on character development and drama. While some people may find it boring, I thought it was refreshing and interesting.

7. I usually hate romantic subplots, but the story of Peter and Gwen worked for me. They had real chemistry, and they made me actually feel for them.

8. The only thing I really hated about the movie is Spider-man’s stupid little jokes and one-liners. They really pulled me out of the movie. I mean, can’t we have a super-hero that isn’t a cheesy smart-ass when he talks to bad guys?

9. The movie is ostensibly about hope (it gets hammered into us repeatedly). But below the surface, the movie is really about abandonment, betrayal, helplessness, and coming to terms with the fact that you can’t save everyone, no matter how superheroic you may be.