Archives for May 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past PosterRating: ★★★★☆

The opening shot imagines an apocalyptic future. New York is devastated and hopeless, and the first people we see are lifeless ones being dumped from a truck. A miserable crowd of humans and mutants slowly march with blank faces, possibly towards their execution. A pile of bones cover the earth, where more rot is surely buried underneath.

Meanwhile, a desperate group of survivors retreat in a ruined monastery. Knowing that they will soon be caught, the group sends one of their friends in a last-ditch effort to fix what’s become of the world. The odds that the plan will succeed? Slim, but what other choice do they have? That they sit and wait behind tainted windows suggests that what they are in is less of a mission than it is a prayer.

If you’ve ever wondered how comic book superheroes would fit in a painting of The Holocaust, well here it is.

I walk in most Superhero Movies with an almost jaded attitude – thanks to “Green Lantern”, “Man of Steel”, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, “Thor: The Dark World”, and so on – but the dark, unconventional prologue of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” automatically elevates it from its comic book counterparts. It’s starts with a statement and ends with a bang. Even the scenes of exposition have a pulse. The hype, ladies and gentlemen, is legit.

Days of Future Past

Time travel is the group’s final measure to amend history, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the only candidate that could survive the trip. So back in time he goes. He wakes up fresh from a one night stand; if he was sent back a few hours later, the movie would have an R Rating. Just an example of how time can really change things, but back to the story we go.

Similar to the previous installments, we spend about a fourth of the film being introduced to the mutants, their superpowers, how they can help with the mission, and so on and so forth. In my review of 2011’s “X-Men: First Class”, I observed that the movie’s fatal flaw was drawing itself away from the interesting, important relationship between Charles (Professor X) and Eric (Magneto) to develop irrelevant, annoying supporting mutants like Banshee (the one who can cause ear cancer) and Angel (the one with throat cancer).

Mystique in Days of Future Past

In “Days of Future Past”, the primary characters get the screen time they deserve while the secondary mutants are limited to being cool special effects machines. Amongst the newcomers, runner-up goes to Blink, a sneaky lady with teleport portals while the crowd favorite will undoubtedly be Quicksilver, the gray-haired teenage rebel with an appetite for speed. (I refuse to name the unfortunate Aaron Paul movie).  This chill kid played by Evan Peter provides the single most entertaining, inventive, memorable sequence in the entire film when… but why spoil it for you? Rather, I’ll just pause and wonder why Marvel is busy financing a dozen other sequels instead of getting Quicksilver a film of his own.

Viewers who know their science-fiction will link the film’s use of time travel and robots with that of the “Terminator” trilogy. Comic Books Amateurs like myself thought that “Days of Future Past” got its idea from “Terminator”, but Fanboys were diligent in clarifying that it’s the other way around, since the comic book from which this film is based on was released way back in 1981. I highlight this because of my admiration of the Sentinels, whose unstoppable force reminded me of the T-1000. Both are sadistic shape-shifters that can take a lot of beating first then win later.

The number and strength of the Sentinels are great set pieces yes, but they also pose a real, genuine threat to our heroes. We see a lot of mutants die brutal deaths, and as generic as it looks on the surface, I found myself unusually involved in the climax of the “future” side of the story.

X-Men GIF

Our desperate group of survivors is on the brink of their last stand. Will their prayer be answered or will they, like their fallen friends, also end up being dumped on the dirt? Bryan Singer began his film so brilliantly that it would be a shame to let it end with a salute to Michael Bay. He does not disappoint. What has characterized the “X-Men” franchise is the opposing ideologies between Professor X and Magneto on how they think mutants should live in a world that is not ready for them. This is what decides the film’s outcome. Not by who punched harder or pulled the trigger faster. Here is an approach unheard of in the Marvel Universe. After more than a decade of remakes, re-imaginings, reboots, sequels and spin-offs, I think they’re finally starting to get the idea.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

What do we get after Sam Raimi’s three “Spider-Man” films released in a span of six years? “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 3”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 4”, a spin-off starring Venom, a second spin-off about the Sinister Six and probably a TV series, half a dozen video games and a cameo at “Glee”. Cause why the hell not.

As unnecessary as it felt, Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot showed great potential for improvement with its better casting and enhanced special effects, but its chances at soaring was crushed by the bastards at SONY who downsized the elements that really worked in order to structure future installments. And though this scheme has been true to pretty much all the Marvel movies, it is most abused with this reimagining of Spider-Man.

On a positive note, the parallel stories about struggling student and rebellious superhero can be quite compelling; it’s the set-ups in between that ruin the experience.

So the sequel is here, and with a record-setting running time for a Spidey Flick of 142 minutes, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is just a bigger example of what made its predecessor an avoidable disappointment. Unfocused and uneven, the film juggles the contrivances of the mystery behind the fate of Peter’s parents, the planting of characters that would eventually form the Sinister Six, the introduction of Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) as the next plot twist, and a couple other subplots that I either missed or forgotten about.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2

What I do recall is my fascination for Oscorp, a multi-billion-dollar corporation that has produced more super villains than my country’s Supreme Court. On the previous “Spider-Man” film, the crippled Dr. Curt Conner morphs into The Lizard in a quest to be whole again. Here, the friendless nerd that is Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) evolves into Electro while the dying Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) decays into the Green Goblin. Does anyone in Oscorp know what a background check is? And why is Gwen Stacy still working there? Did she forget that her co-employee-turned-monster killed her Dad?

Loneliness erupts into violence in Electro, whose bluish glow makes him look like a crossbreed between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and the towering blue humanoids in “Avatar”. After plunging into a tank of mutated electric eels (Damn it, Oscorp!), Dillon gains the power to cast explosions of electricity and deliver cheesy one-liners in the process: “It’s my birthday! Time to light my candles!” *Zap, Zap!* Max Dillon’s transformation is rushed by the numerous subplots, making him a stock villain instead of a sympathetic character. He greatly expands the film’s scale (this is the biggest New York production ever), but the action he provides only make a cool trailer, not a captivating film.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy

Notwithstanding, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has strokes of visual excellence, all of which are executed through the abilities of Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) himself. His first appearance, where he swings along New York skyscrapers in POV, evokes genuine exhilaration. The special effects gives weight to Spider-Man’s swift movements, which causes the audience to feel the pull, drag, and momentum in his every swing, then gravity does the rest. Director Mar Webb presents us with the most convincing Spider-Man footage to date, and his skill and enthusiasm is evident. That the scenes of exposition are so dull suggests that Webb himself is restrained by SONY’s intent to stretch the franchise until 2018. At age 30, how long can Garfield continue to play the web-slinger who had just graduated from high school?

Behind all the exposition and special effects is a likeable couple in Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). And of all the onscreen couples in the Marvel universe, the team of Peter and Gwen is the only one that doesn’t feel conventional. Their romance functions as an independent story rather than a device to complete the comic book blueprint. Every time Garfield and Stone share a scene, the film brightens up. Maybe it’s because the two are dating in real life. Maybe it’s because they are younger compared to other Marvel couples and the target audience identifies with them the most. Or maybe it’s because I just find Emma Stone so darn adorable.

Gwen Stacy GIF

Either way, a scene near the end will strike an emotional cord unknown to moviegoers who only watch films in the same wavelength as this one. It’s a brave decision, impressively executed, and it’s the film’s most memorable moment.

So 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” remains to be the best flick of the franchise. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” had the director and actors for second place, but the Hollywood disease has dragged it to a spot only ahead of the embarrassing “Spider-Man 3”. That won’t stop people from buying tickets to it I’m sure, and that’s all fine. I suspect that people will walk in wanting CGI mayhem and walk out asking themselves the question: “When will we get to see a nice little love story starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone?” I know I did.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale Poster

Rating: ★★★★½

I remember the first time I saw Casino Royale. Seeing Daniel Craig for the first time with his short cut hair, his lean muscular body and his ape-like jumping motions were odd to me. In some manner, I perceived it as an outrageous blasphemy to Bond films. I grew up seeing James Bond as a man who was smooth and relaxed. He always had an escape plan, and he appears to be a step ahead of his megalomaniac counterparts.

I was constantly being badgered by friends of mine saying that this was an exceptional Bond film, so I went home and gave it another chance. Gradually, I noticed that this Bond film really grew into me. I started to appreciate the rebirth and transformation of this template character. The opening scene done by Martin Campbell was somehow borrowed from the 40’s gangster films with its canted shots and grainy black and white feel. It was a detour from the formula it normally operates in which was Bond goes to bad guy’s lair, Bond’s cover gets blown, Bond shoots a lot of people and blows a ton of stuff into bits and he escapes by the skin of his teeth (normally he inserts a pun during the getaway).

Casino Royale

When Bond gets back into the office, he talks to M after sending him to another mission to investigate and shoot people. (I often wonder how he made his after-action report).

Here we see Bond as a rookie, being recently promoted to his “00” status, M perceives him as a reckless liability to the service. He’s tasked to track down a group of terrorists trying get funding from a poker game. I don’t play poker, nor do I understand the little nuances that make a good poker game, but I do understand that if Bond loses, terrorists and genocidal African people are gonna be richer because of Bond’s mishap with his bluffs. Judi Dench has been granted more dialogue and teeth unlike in the previous films where she was just paid to worry and bark orders at other MI6 agents. Bond gets to have his fair share of women in this movie, one is a replica of Penelope Cruz and the other is Vesper Lynd, a sarcastic accountant from the Royal Treasury keeping an eye on Bond’s cash played by Eva Green.

The Bond franchise does drive around with this common argument with superhero movies: you’ve got to have a good villain, a guy that didn’t come from a box you ordered from 1-800 HENCHMEN, a guy as good as the articulate and unbelievably mad Mr. Silver in Skyfall, who reminds me a lot of Christoph Waltz’s “The Jew Hunter” from The Inglorious Basterds. Here it was an OK villain; he goes by the name of Le Chiffre, sufficient in playing his role in the grand scheme of things, no world domination and rule-the-entire-planet-Earth type of deal.

Daniel Craig as James Bond

Casino Royale showed us that Bond is a man. He bleeds, he makes mistakes he expresses genuine love I have never seen in an espionage thriller and suffers the consequences. There’s a scene that involves Bond saying how much he loves Vesper, and of all the Bonds, he’s the only actor who could pull this delicate and sincere line without making anyone grin or laugh in the movie house.

After much thought and reflection, I’ve come to a conclusion that Casino Royale has to be one of the best Bonds ever made. And as for Daniel Craig, he’s does the Bond franchise an irrefutable tribute. But I just have to say, Sean Connery does puns and one liners really, really well.

The actions scenes here are superb, far from the evidently rehearsed explosions and fist fights demonstrated by the ones before it. Daniel Craig and Martin Campbell have done an awesome execution of unpredictable fight scenes like the one involving Bond throwing a pistol at the face of the bomb maker he was after. Not only that, he unexpectedly smashes through walls and smacks a guy’s forehead on a bronze bust. I believe that this movie would appeal to people who were tired of the Bond formula that has been going on for years. On the other hand this would be hated by people who do not really care about Bond’s humanity, I used to be one of those and I deeply regret it.

One last thing, I realized that the accounting and applied sciences department of MI6 must’ve been pissed with Bond losing and damaging so many of Her Majesty’s property.