Movie Review ~ X-Men: Days of Future Past

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Boo Boo Stewart, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Ok, I believe by now we’ve established the kind of reader-critic relationship that allows me to be as open and honest with you as I possibly can.  So, I the spirit of putting it all out there on the table I need to tell you that the X-Men and all their variations have never really been my thing.  Aside from a childhood desire to beat the SEGA game, I’ve never truly warmed to Professor X and his motley crew of mutant heroes and villains…even after seven films.

Though the overreaching message of the film (we’re all mutants in some form or another and that’s ok) is a positive one that has the ability to speak to anyone, there’s something about the over eagerness of the filmmakers to constantly “get it right” that I find myself enjoying the spectacle at a distance.

It doesn’t help that the quality of the movies hasn’t maintained any sort of consistency since X-Men was released in 2000.  The first sequel improved upon its predecessor but when original director Bryan Signer vacated the series for Superman Returns the third entry landed with a thud.  Spinning off the series into a poorly executed Wolverine origin story further dug a hole for the franchise before 2011’s X-Men: First Class saved a listing ship.  I didn’t dislike 2013’s The Wolverine as much as my colleagues but by that point fans were a little sensitive to their mutants getting less than stellar cinematic adventures.

Now we’ve arrived in the present with X-Men: Days of Future Past…but we won’t stay there long as the enjoyable seventh entry of the series is more interested in looking back than moving forward.  There’s a lot (A LOT) going on in Simon Kinberg’s script…so much so that I often found myself struggling to remember how all the pieces fit, who is who, and what decade we’re in.  After an opening in a desolate not-too-distant future, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Prisoners, who must have been paid in how many bicep veins are present) is sent back to the early 70’s by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) to prevent rouge Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) from setting a series of events into motion in the past that will have a deadly impact for the future.

Juggling two separate time frames, returning director Bryan Singer manages to keep everything in balance for the most part.  Having watched X-Men: First Class directly before seeing this new film, I was impressed that Singer and Kinberg carved out a new path while keeping continuity through some difficult loose ends previous director Matthew Vaughn left for the new crew to figure out.

Less impressive is an overall humdrum feeling the movie left me with after all was said and done.  I’m not suggesting the movie isn’t terrific popcorn entertainment or doesn’t contain a handful of impressively filmed sequences (like Evan Peters as Quicksilver showing off his talents while Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” plays in the background) but it all feels overly calculated, designed to allow the franchise to continue without really having to answer for past mistakes.

With Lawrence’s star gone supernova since the last installment, her part is significantly beefed up here.  Mystique has never been so front and center and Lawrence manages to eek out some nice moments under her full body make-up.  As the younger Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy (Trance) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) don’t seem quite as invested this time around, but then again there’s not the same kind of character discovery available to them.  Jackman can play the role in his sleep…and by now it looks like he is.

Moving fast through its 131 minute running length, the end of the film sets up the next volume of X-Men escapades nicely…but then again if you really think about it that’s all the movie seemed interested in in the first place.  Fairly and frequently violent for a PG-13 film, parents should think twice before bringing young children along…Godzilla has less death/carnage in it.

With all my griping about overall ulterior motives, I’ll admit the movie fits neatly into the mode of summer blockbuster by combining all the right elements into the mix.  I think fans will look back and see the mechanics of the script in years to come…but by that time these will be the true days of future past.

Movie Review ~ The Call

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When 911 operator Jordan Turner receives a call from a girl who has just been abducted, she soon realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life.

Stars: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, Michael Imperioli

Director: Brad Anderson

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  It’s so aggravating to find yourself in the theater watching a B-movie that thinks it’s playing in the big leagues, so there’s something to be said about a movie that knows its place.  Though it’s a B-movie through and through, The Call manages to rise above its direct-to-video set-up and break on through to the other side of schlock entertainment.

I’d seen the trailer for The Call more than a few times and with each viewing I was less and less interested in it because I felt the preview gave away too much of the movie…a feeling I still stand by after seeing the final product.  However, even a giveaway trailer couldn’t quite put a damper on the fact that the film is more enjoyable than it has any real right to be.

Originally titled The Hive, referring to the 911 control center where much of the film takes place, The Call starts out strong as we find 911 operator Jordan (Berry, Cloud Atlas) using her expertise to help a young girl escape an intruder.  Trouble is, Berry is too on the ball and she inadvertently plays a part in the girl’s demise at the hands of a killer.  Six months pass and Berry is unable to bring herself to take more calls, deciding instead to teach incoming operators…until a girl (Breslin) calls from the trunk of a car after being abducted from a mall parking lot.

The Operator and The Abducted work together as they battle near escapes, broken cell signals, and one very loony tunes psycho across the highways and byways of Los Angeles.  Under Anderson’s (The Machinist, Next Stop Wonderland, the underrated Session 9) slick direction, the film chugs along without ever letting the audience get too far ahead.  Though Richard D’Ovidio’s lean script is filled with your stock close calls and convenient happenstances, it somehow works in a throwback sort of way.

Oscar winner Berry has had a rough go with movie choices for most of her career – for every good movie she’s done there are three or four others that she (and we) would like to forget.  I had my reservations going in and although she lays the emotional anxiety on thick, she acquits herself nicely by making her character a believable fighter and do-righter.  Breslin is another actress that can’t quite find her footing as she mozies through some teenage awkwardness…but the film allows her some opportunity to break out of the Little Miss Sunshine mode.

Most interesting in the cast is Eklund as our resident kidnapper (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler).  Eklund’s role is a tricky one – in these types of films the killer is usually either a pervert or nutcase and Eklund opts to mash those two together and produces a slow burn of creepiness.  When the film trips near the end and rips off a classic Oscar winning horror film it’s Eklund that brings it back to reality.

It’s not a perfect film by any means.  The secondary characters exist only to get Berry, Breslin, and Eklund where the script dictates they need to be and the ending may be something the audience wants but it’s not what the movie deserves.  Fortunately, for the previous 90 minutes The Call has brought you along on a breezy thrill ride that serves its purpose and delivers the goods.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Call

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Synopsis: In order to save a young girl’s life, an emergency operator must confront a killer from her past.

Release Date:  March 15, 2013

Thoughts: Originally titled The Hive, the trailer for the blandly retitled The Call represents everything I really dislike about previews.  It’s too long, too detailed, and doesn’t leave you wondering about what kind of movie you’re going to see.  Like the trailers from the past (I’m talking up through the mid 80’s) this preview gives away everything but the closing credits…so what’s left to entice viewers to see the film?  Oscar winner (!) Halle Berry continues her downward descent in film with another quick buck half-effort.  I think she’s better than this but still seems intent on following up every interesting film she does (Cloud Atlas) with a hokey piece of direct to video garbage.  Admittedly, I have a soft spot for these schlocky films…but only when they’re viewed cheap on streaming video or a $1 rental from Redbox.  Perhaps there is a twist the film has left hidden, though I’m not too confident that there’s more to uncover when a preview is this revealing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Movie 43

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Synopsis: An ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.

Release Date:  January 25, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s a film I’ve been hearing about for a while now thanks to a word of mouth publicity campaign.  Though it reminds me a lot of the uneven semi-classic Kentucky Fried Movie, this particular entry sold me on the cast list alone.  You have Oscar nominated/winning females (Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry) side by side with men that run the gamut from A-List (Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere) to has beens (sorry fellow MN Seann William Scott).  Many famous faces/names also wrote and directed the shorts so here’s hoping that the good stuff is great and the bad stuff is short.  I’ve laughed at this trailer (and its Not Safe For Work red band trailer here) and do anticipate liking this when it’s released later in January.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Die Another Day

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is sent to investigate the connection between a North Korean terrorist and a diamond mogul who is funding the development of an international space weapon.

Stars:  Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese

Director: Lee Tamahori

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  With three films under his belt, Brosnan’s next venture into Bond territory was delayed slightly to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bond films and the 50th anniversary of the publication of author Ian Fleming’s work.  Going into the release day, there was a lot of hype around the movie concerning the far-out premise and the casting of an Oscar winner as a sort of female Bond.

I remember seeing Die Another Day the morning it was released in Dublin, Ohio while I was on tour with a show and how much I was looking forward to it.  At the time, I found the film to be overblown, overlong, and finally tipping the scales to gimmickry after avoiding it for so long.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen it again until recently when I was surprised to find myself enjoying what would be Brosnan’s last time onscreen as James Bond.

After a prolonged prologue set in Korea, for the first time we see Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits incorporating film elements into his design and accompanied by Madonna’s admittedly one-note but fitting theme song.  (Madonna herself also becomes the first theme artist to cameo in a Bond film in a small role that nevertheless sticks out like a sore thumb).  Changing up the credits was a benefit as it had to show some passage of time in a creative way.

There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo in the way of a plot concerning cloning, diamonds, and a very large ice palace owned by wealthy magnate Gustav Graves (Stephens, son of Maggie Smith, who obviously inherited his mom’s way with a clipped one-liner) but it’s best not to get too involved with the more silly details happening in the film.  It’s best to enjoy what the gigantic budget bought for us in the way of impressive special effects and well maneuvered stunt sequences.

Brosnan is his usual dapper self, not letting a 14 month stay in a Korean prison hold his superspy back for long.  Dench is tart per usual but she must have had other work at the time because her role is noticeably shorter than it was in The World is Not Enough.  Pike is nicely ensconced as chilly Bond girl/MI6 agent Miranda Frost and Yune makes the most out of his underdeveloped diamond acne-d villain.  If someone can explain to me why Michael Madsen shows up I’d be interested to hear!

That leads us to Berry who is introduced ala Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, Dr. No.  When I first saw the film I wasn’t impressed with her but over time the role has grown on me and it’s easy to see why there was buzz about her character Jinx getting her own spin-off but, alas, like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies it was not meant to be.

Bringing on yet another new director, the producers went with an Australian and Tamahori brings a smart sensibility to the film.  He keeps the light stuff light and the full throttle action on high alert so even if the film is a little too long for its own good it still doesn’t feel like its overstaying its welcome.

Some feel that Die Another Day is a lesser title in the world of 007 and even if it is…there’s a lot to like in it that would keep even the casual action moviegoer interested.  Brosnan’s four Bond films are the most consistent of any of the previous Bonds so some credit should go to him for taking good care of Bond in his tenure.