With the summer movie semester well into the summer session, the time has finally come to comment on some of what I have seen. This edition will feature Neighbors, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
As always, when I see a movie in theaters, I will (attempt to) write the five things you need to know about it.
5 Things You Need to Know About…
1) Although I hated Neighbors and most of my Neigbors viewing experience, I recognize its relative success as a modern, pushing-the-envelope comedic summer romp.
2) Zac Efron’s body and physical persona may be the closest thing I have ever seen on screen to a Greek God and he and the filmmakers seem to both know and celebrate this.
3) Ike Barinholtz has a brand of comedic timing on The Mindy Project that he brings to his supporting role in The Neighbors. As on The Mindy Project, he is both sometimes hilarious and sometimes far too many steps over the top.
4) I was pleasantly surprised by the chemistry between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as an oddly-coupled set of new parents. They both were willing to go there – with each other, with other co-stars (particularly the surprisingly fantastic Efron), and with the hyperbole of the plotted circumstances.
5) Neighbors is a movie that delivers a full filling of disgusting raunch and was frequently too much out of control partying for me to take. If this kind of thing is your jam, Neighbors is an escapist escapade, but if you are at a place in your life in which you are ready to settle down with a spouse and kids, be warned.
1) Godzilla‘s relative CGI and monster reveal procrastination fuels its suspenseful success. Like summer blockbuster heavyweights like Jaws and Jurassic Park (both under the helm of Steven Spielberg the Magnificent), we earn the climactic curtain pull-back.
2) Bryan Cranston is good at acting – sure, see: Breaking Bad. But also, see: Godzilla.
3) Director Gareth Edwards has recently been attached to helm an “untitled Star Wars project.” With operation total secrecy expertly and indefinitely locked in the bag on everything Star Wars movies related, one secret did recently get out: a future Star Wars movie may be even luckier to have Gareth Edwards as its director than Gareth Edwards is lucky to be able to direct a Star Wars movie. If Godzilla’s promise is any indication, this is an outstanding choice.
4) I am not sure when it is going to come and Godzilla is certainly not it (this is by no means a bad thing – the character performance stakes are just a little lower in a movie about a fictionalized monster), but I have a strong premonition that Elizabeth Olsen is going to have an iconic film performance at some point in her career. She has something undeniably unique and compelling going on as an actor and with the right character/director/writer combination may have the talent to deliver something really special.
5) Godzilla is a movie that executes its mission (a summer escape, a chance to see cool looking monsters that destroy things, a platform for Bryan Cranston to reinvent himself post Walter White) with a confidence, artistry, and intrigue not often reserved for the modern summer blockbuster. Although littered with characters built from traditional stock and a little darker (as in lighting and mood) than necessary, Godzilla entertains (and decimates property and other monsters in its path!) most responsibly.
1) My X-Men movie journey is very similar to my at-large X-Men journey. Throughout my life, X-Men has always been a franchise, a concept, and a group of action figures to play with that I enjoy and indulge in on extended breaks from Batman. Although they adequately fill the gaps during forced vacations from Gotham City, rarely do Professor Xavier’s crew of mutant super outcasts stand tall against Batman’s human awesomeness. With Batman and Robin and director Joel Schumacher defecating on Batman, the moviegoing experience, and human decency in 1997, the X-Men had been handed their cinematic window to makes some dents in Batman’s armored nipples. Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was a passable franchise welcoming (this does not include anything to do with the mistreatment of Halle Berry’s Storm character nor the CGI budget limitations that make its production value seem much closer to a movie released in 1990). X2 (2003) was a revelatory leap forward and stands up well to this day (the bigger budget and everything to do with Nightcrawler were significant contributors). By the time the inferior and belabored X-Men: The Last Stand rolled out in 2006, Christopher Nolan had just given Batman an exceptional new cinematic restart (Batman Begins in 2005), and the X-Men franchise had to re-mutate again. One attempted genetic experiment was resoundingly anti-climatic – besides the estate of Hugh Jackman, I am not sure there are too many people who have benefitted in any way from the Wolverine movies (their complete lack of pop cultural impact is really telling). 2011’s X-Men: First Class had the opposite effect. Set in 1962 and infused with a nostalgic charm by director Matthew Vaughn, First Class expertly told the X-Men origin story of young Professor Xavier and Magneto through the brilliant chemically balanced performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (although a little too miscast as Raven/Mystique, it never hurts to have Jennifer Lawrence on your team). If First Class rebooted and restarted the X-Men mythos in the best of ways, X-Men: Days of Future Past was an opportunity to tie the two X-Men time periods (and actors thereof) into one elegant through-story. The resulting movie, again with Bryan Singer at the helm and again buttressed between two Batman movie franchises, conveniently resets the events of the past movies by creating an entirely new history (popular deceased characters can now have new life in future movies), but unfortunately works to both cheapen what was good about the original three movies and the goodwill brought on by X-Men: First Class. Time travel is the trickiest of fantasy tropes. Mind-blowing is palatable if there is some restraint (this is why I am so stoked for Interstellar and why Inception worked so well – thanks again Christopher Nolan). X-Men: Days of Future Past does not show as much restraint as it could (everything seems awfully convenient, especially the premise that Jackman’s Wolverine is the perfect candidate to take the journey) and the result is a lot of sloppy and imprecise filmmaking (the anti-Usual Suspects).
2) I am thrilled for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s onscreen chemistry and offscreen professional and personal relationship that has grown from their time together on the first movies, but after seeing Fassbender and McAvoy again do their young Erik and Charles thing, there is nothing quite like it. I could sit and watch these two play a board game together or model vintage fashion and it would be mesmerizing (it’s a good thing because these opportunities come up throughout DoFP).
3) If you have seen any of Peter Dinklage’s work on Game of Thrones, you immediately recognize two things – he is a superior actor and you want to see him perform more. I thought that Dr. Bolivar Trask, the sentinel’s Dr. Frankenstein lobbyist, would be the perfect dichotomized bad guy for Dinklage’s talents to shine. Sadly, Trask is written poorly and without a desired amount of ethical and psychological depth. Dinklage is wonderful so not all is disappointing, but this is a lost opportunity to showcase the full extent of Dinklage’s brilliance.
4) For her second straight movie release (I see you, American Hustle), Jennifer Lawrence has played a part she was not born to play. The weight of her movie superstardom and talent may even at times be more of a detriment than of a benefit. You know she is capable of such incredible things, so when her Raven character is given such choppy dialogue and inconsequential and confusing motives, you are left feeling as blue her full-body suit.
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past is a movie with epic, interstellar storytelling ambition that too often feels grounded to Earth. It is too many things all at once such that what it really needs to be – thoughtful, provocative, compelling – fails to fully develop. The future scenes are action-sequence pleasure, but of little care or consequence. The past scenes from the 70s are fogged by a blurry dedication to external realism over internal truth.