Archive | May, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

25 May

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’: Mutant ’70s will delight fans, baffle most of humanity

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Maybe I’m getting cantankerous in my old age, but a barrage of cool special FX does not make a movie, at least not in my book, and the ongoing glut of seamless, more-real digital renderings only exacerbates the problem. Take the “Iron Man” franchise: great character building and back story in chapter one, but by the third one Iron Man suits are flying everywhere and pre-“conscious uncoupling” Gwyneth Paltrow gets a vanity moment to flash her sculpted, post-40 abs – a lot of generic silliness to something that started so rooted and firm. That trend was realized again last week with the “Godzilla” reboot as the spectacle of the spiked Tokyo tosser all but stomped out a solid performance by Bryan Cranston. Here, in a psychedelic flashback to the ’70s, the “X-Men” franchise sacrifices soul for the computer-generated spectacular.

052414i X-Men- Days of Future PastThere are some clever, brilliant nuances to “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” such as the scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters of “American Horror Story”) in a slo-mo microsecond aptly done to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” rearranges the trajectory of bullets and plays puckish pranks on the guards holding the guns about to take out Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) or when Wolverine travels back to 1973 and wakes up next to a lava lamp and the shrill pitch of Minnie Riperton singing “Lovin’ You” (though I believe that was a ’74 or ’75 song). And so why 1973? Well there’s an impending apocalypse in the now that stems from the actions of a pint-sized McCarthy-minded White House adviser named Trask (Peter Dinklage) who wants to wipe out all the mutants, and to do so he has weaponized a solution by leveraging the DNA of Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Zany history-rewriting threads involving Nixon and Kennedy ensue and there’s a neat Vietnam spin reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen,” and a follow-on in Paris that intrigues, but the developing action becomes a tedious waiting game pulling the whole construct down and the flashing to and fro begins to take its toll.  Continue reading

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Godzilla

18 May

Godzilla’: Big names, big ideas, big beasts in an update falling just short of awesome

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Serious actors in movies that feature monsters, cute kids or animals tend to fare poorly, ever upstaged by the title incarnation and addled by a blockbuster-minded script driven more by target marketing campaign goals than heart of character. Steven Spielberg might be the one great exception, but when you throw in mankind-crushing mayhem and imminent world destruction, as he did with the “War of the Worlds” remake, and even in his good hands some of the edge of his heartwarming fastball comes off.

051714i GodzillaWhy a “name” thespian checks into such a project has to be twofold: a leading-role paycheck for cameo work and exposure – “You’ll become a household name,” you can almost hear an agent say. Think of Marlon Brando in “Superman,” a record payday for a few minutes of labor, though by that time he couldn’t much care about exposure because it invariably became fodder about his increasing corpulence. One too might think of Raymond Burr (“Perry Mason” and old “Ironside”) appearing in the 1956 American recut of the 1954 Japanese “Godzilla” (née “Gojira”). To garner a U.S. market, Burr was edited in as an American in Tokyo as the infamous dino-beast rose up from the ocean depths and merrily stomped the port of Japan.

Which brings us to today. Here, in the 2014 update, which thumbs its nose at Roland Emmerich’s poorly received big-budget go back in 1998, we get Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe. That’s one Academy Award, a few Emmys and a fistful of nominations – pretty serious stuff to be playing around in Gojira land. Last summer “Pacific Rim” tried to spin the mega beast stomping out humanity into a mano y mano cage fight. It nearly succeeded, but the equilibrium between the human drama and the super spectacular smackdown in the denouement is a high-wire balancing act not meant for amateurs. Even proven helmsmen have fallen.

Enter Gareth Edwards, whose end-of-the-world, alien-invasion debut, “Monsters” (2010) was a lot sharper than its uninspired title. He adds flesh and soul to “Godzilla” with Cranston playing Joe, an American engineer in Japan overseeing a nuclear power plant. Joe’s on edge over some recent seismic activity that makes no logical sense, and as you can probably guess, boom happens and the plant (a nod to the recent earthquake-reactor disaster at Fukushima?) implodes.  Continue reading

Locke

17 May

‘Locke’: Tom Hardy alone in car becomes lesson in how to build cinematic tension

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A man driving around in his car might not make for much of a movie, not unless he’s got a phalanx of baddies armed with uzis blasting away on his ass. That’s not the case in “Locke,” and thankfully so. What “Locke” has going for it is high stakes and Tom Hardy, the actor who has done everything from the violently outlandish “Bronson” to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and even played a malevolent cage fighter in “Warrior,” not to mention those two small films he did with Christopher Nolan “Inception” and who could forget his turn as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hardy’s range and versatility has him on his way to becoming the bona fide A-list name from the U.K. that Jude Law never quite became. If there was any question, “Locke” cements it.

050914i LockeThe premise is quite simple: A man gets in his car and drives for nearly 90 minutes in crisis management mode. Hardy’s Ivan Locke is a high-performing construction foreman building the biggest modern-day skyscraper in the London area, but panicked calls from a woman in a hospital needing his reassurance keep pouring in over his BMW’s Bluetooth system. He also uses the system, a platform for his calm control over things out of his reach and the driving plot device for the film, to let his most loyal know he won’t be there at 5 a.m. when hundreds of cement trucks roll in to pour the building’s foundation. This sets off a management shit storm, but Locke, ever calm and confident, defuses each mini-tempest with reason, explanation and solution. What’s not so easy are the calls from his wife, who is confused as to why he is driving through the night and not home watching the big soccer game with the boys.   Continue reading

Palo Alto

10 May

<i>Palo Alto</i>

Bored kids of privilege looking for thrills, validation and love. You’ve seen it done funny and twisted before in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and more recently driven by ennui in Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, which felt like a modern day retelling of her Marie Antoinette—after all, aren’t cake and celebrity bling the same thing? So it’s fitting too that the latest entry into the teen anxiety crisis genre is the debut of Sophia’s niece, Gia Coppola, who gives a shout out to auntie, by panning over a poster of Sophia’s debut film, The Virgin Suicides hanging on the wall of one of her darlings.

The “all in the family” ties run deep. The film’s based on a collection of short stories written by James Franco, who also plays the amiable girls soccer coach Mr. B. and it stars Emma Roberts (Eric’s daughter, Julia’s niece) and Jack Kilmer (son of Val, who crops up in an outrageous cameo).

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Whitewash

7 May

<i>Whitewash</i>

Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’ nuanced character study may run on many different cylinders, but all are tuned to the same end; a modern day, “accidental” Crime and Punishment where the protagonist struggles heavily in the wake of a rash action and its indelible consequences, which begin to consume him. There’s really not much in terms of plot, but what there is unfurls in compelling, nonlinear strokes that a more straight-forward approach might otherwise render pedantic or tedious. Hoss-Desmarais also has Thomas Haden Church in his deck of cards, and since much is asked of the film’s lead, having a capable actor imbued with on-tap quirk and soul, layers the effort immeasurably.

Whitewash begins with a bang, literally as Bruce (Church), driving a Sno-Cat snowplow down a snow-encrusted street in a Quebec burg during near-whiteout conditions, mows down a lone shadowy figure. Whether the accident is truly accidental or not is unclear and remains so in the aftermath and “what to do next” stage. Bruce is despondent initially but shifts into calculating cover-up mode as he wraps up the body, puts it in the Sno-Cat and drives the vehicle deep into the woods.

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