Movies: X-Men – Days of Future Past

…written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawerence, Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart.

Having enjoyed X-Men – First Class quite a lot, and with this latest X-movie drawing from some of the best X-Men comics runs of the late 80’s and early 90’s, we were really looking forward to X-Men – Days of Future Past.  Time travel and the mutant apocalypse – with Bryan Singer back to direct and all the relevant cast reprising their roles.  And enjoy this movie we did.  In fact, I believe this as my favorite X-movies from the series, which also places it in our top few for all super hero movies.

The premise, as with most time travel movies, deals with traveling backwards to alter history to avert catastrophe.  In this case we have a near future in which mutants have been rounded up or hunted to near extinction by the familiar (to comics fans) Sentinel robots.  Some of the X-Men continue to hold-out, as we learn, through Kitty Pryde’s mutant power to send a person’s consciousness back to their past self a few minutes.  This allows the X-Men to alter the present and avoid the inevitable mass Sentinel assault by a few moments.  But more and more Sentinels are coming each time, so when the X-Men rendezvous with Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and some others, they decide to try something new.

The Professor and Magneto think they’ve determined a key point in history – in 1971 – when the U.S. Government under Nixon first approved the Sentinel robot program.  The tipping point came when Mystique killed the man responsible for designing the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask.  What she didn’t realize is that even though she delayed the Sentinel program by decades, the program continued, and Trask’s understudies managed to collect some of her mutant DNA as a result.  They eventually manage to incorporate the DNA and Mystique’s shape-shifting powers into their technology, making the Sentinels so adaptable and lethal in the future. Continue reading

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

…written by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, based on an Ed Brubaker story; directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; starring Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Robert Redford.

These Marvel movies just keep hitting the target.  Thor – The Dark World was excellent, X-Men – Days of Futures Past looks fantastic based on the trailers, and we’re optimistic for the next Spider-man movie this summer as well.  The only one we’ve panned of late was Iron Man 3 (because, gah.)  So with the the great early buzz, we were anticipating Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we weren’t disappointed.  This is another great super hero movie.

It’s a different kind of super hero movie, though.  Based on comics by Ed Brubaker, the story involves serpentine conspiracies and secrets and healthy mistrust of those in power.  Pretty much par for the course with Hollywood’s take on the espionage game.  This movie features Cap and Black Widow as Shield’s two prime field agents, chasing down bad guys and running ops for Nick Fury.  When one of these ops goes sideways, Cap gets suspicious of Fury’s motives and goals.  He becomes even more concerned when Fury shows him the strategic plan to launch three additional heli-carriers capable of linking up with surveillance satellites and securing Shield’s military dominance in the world.

But Fury has concerns as well.  He’s noticed something anomalous, a security breach, and confides in the Chief of Allied Defense, Alexander Pierce (Redford).  About this time, the Winter Soldier shows up and takes a crack at Fury.  Black Widow tells Cap about the Winter Soldier: a legendary KGB assassin rumored to have conducted the most dangerous and sensitive assignments for over 50 years.

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Quick Rec – The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men (directed by George Clooney, based on the book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter) would be an easy movie to dismiss or mock if you were so inclined.  World War II film about aging scholars rescuing and returning art…  Doesn’t Hollywood so like to congratulate itself about its own artistic contributions, etc., etc..  But, with Clooney determined to give us an effective history lesson, and with an all-star cast (Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett, and Bob Balaban) determined to tell a genuine tale, the result is a very fine movie.

It is a story worth telling – the mystery and intrigue of tracking down all the art the Nazis confiscated, the misgivings of some about the allies’ goals for recovering said art, and even the race with the Soviets.  And within the meta-elements of the film, a very interesting study of war-movies.  The gathering of the team, the guys who despise each other at the outset only to become best friends, the showdown in Act III…  At the heart of the story these Monuments Men had very noble goals, but like soldiers everywhere they continued on mostly for each other.  This is a line that goes back from Saving Private Ryan to The Big Red One to The Dirty Dozen.

You leave the theater on a positive note.  After all, we did rescue the art and return it where possible.  The important signposts of Western Civilization  return home.  When President Roosevelt asks Lt. Stokes (Clooney) if it was all worth it, he has a definitive answer.  A little later you may find yourself considering how the same symbols and signposts, the same Western Civilization also led to Hitler, the Nazis, and the Holocaust.  Well, that’s history for you.

Quick Rec – Lego Movie

Not a full review here, but another quick recommendation :  The Lego Movie.  Yes, you can add us to the many, many others lauding this clever and funny family show.  Does it help that our kids are really into legos right now, that it’s their go-to creative time pursuit?  Absolutely.  But don’t dismiss our thumbs-up as simple consumer bias…

Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller deserve the accolades for a fun story that gets to the heart of playing with legos – the following directions precisely mode vs. free-build creative mode.  Each has its merits, but to the surprise of no one, the movie favors the latter.  Creativity is the principal theme here – what it means to our kids, how we perceive and value it.  And Lord and Miller so effectively capture childhood perceptions of playing and imagining with broad strokes like the different themed lego-lands the characters visit as well as small details like various sound effects (child-produced) or the artifacts from our mundane world.

And, if all that seems a little uppity, well – the jokes are really, really funny.  There are a lot (and we mean a lot) of them, rapidly delivered, with numerous parenting and pop-culture references squarely aimed at the grown-ups.  Due to the vastness of the lego line, the movie drops in all sorts of famous people and character cameos, and the writers obviously had a ball with these scenes and jokes.

The Lego Movie is easily Top 3 for family movies we’ve seen in the last several years – probably our favorite since The Incredibles.  So we say, take your kids, grand-kids, or nieces/nephews to the cinema and enjoy.

By the Beard of Odin

We did not expect our favorite super-hero/action movie of 2013 to be Thor: The Dark Worldand yet there it is.  Iron Man 3 was not good, Man of Steel was problematic and should have been better…  We have not yet seen The Wolverine, but based on the reviews and chatter, we doubt it will eclipse the son of Odin.  Thor: TDW had the right blend of humor, action, and Asgardian mayhem, as well as an imminently watchable Loki and Thor dynamic and some Avengers 2 easter eggs.  If you’re into the superheroes, you should check it out.

And, of course, it hath spawned another excellent ‘How it Should Have Ended’, this time featuring the Villain Pub.

Movies: Hobbit – DoS

…written by Fan Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro; directed by Peter Jackson; starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage.

Hobbit Day is big in Beemsville.  It’s family movie day.  Looking forward to the next chapter since last year, excited from the previews and the kids’ shared experience reading the book – anticipation?  Yes.  We’re big fans of the Peter Jackson versions of the Tolkien world, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no exception.

The core cast from last year’s first chapter returns, along with similar strengths and weaknesses.  You get your next dose of Middle Earth-Jackson-style, which also means you get Jackson-style pacing and excess.  The decision to draw three separate films out of Tolkien’s book (and notes from other books) will again rouse complaints.  It makes for uneven bursts of cinematic storytelling and, well Peter Jackson’s penchant for excessive scenes.

What do we mean by excessive?  It’s a handful of action sequences and fight scenes that go on too long.  It’s another chase and escape by the dwarves that while fun, becomes a little ridiculous.  It’s the absolute mountain of treasure in the Lonely Mountain that beggars the description from the book and leaves you thinking about deflation and the Middle Earth economic system.  This adds up to a two-hour-and-forty minute movie that could have comfortably arrived at just over two hours.

Don’t get me wrong – we thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  It’s great entertainment and a level or two above the mean for big budget movies.  In fact the Peter Jackson excess serves to draw more light to the small scenes, the thoughtful scenes, that have made these movies so grand.  These include a scene at the end of the battle with the spiders, when Bilbo loses the ring for a split second;  a brief exchange in which Bilbo almost tells Gandalf about the ring and how he escaped from the goblin tunnels; the healing scene in which Tauriel rescues Kili.

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Iron Man 3 – CBG Complaints

We took in Iron Man 3 this weekend for family movie night.  Mostly, it was what you’d expect: a fun comics themed actioner aimed squarely at the mass markets.  The kids and wife enjoyed it.  I mostly enjoyed it.  And we understand and fully support Disney/Marvel’s approach here.  We’re glad to have shared-world Avengers movies with a sense of continuity, big budgets, and A-list talent.  However….

However, and not to go all Comic Book Guy here, because Iron Man was never a personal favorite or anything, but I do have to go CBG here.  Because just like Man of Steel, the writers/director sort of missed some key elements with Iron Man 3 and kind of blew it to the point of ludicrousity.

Which isn’t really a word, but you get our point.  Major spoilers below…

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