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X-Men: Days of Future Past

The “X-Men” movie franchise has had a bumpy ride. It started off strong, but then stumbled with “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006 before hitting its lowest point with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in 2009. It has been on a steady upward swing ever since and once again found its footing with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” But the newest film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” is on a whole other level. This is easily the best “X-Men” movie to date, a wildly entertaining, perfectly acted, visually stunning comic book movie that reaches levels few other comic book movies have. The buzz so far this year has been all about the latest “Captain America,” but after sitting through this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.

In the early 70s, a doctor by the name of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) had a grand plan. Due to what he saw as an inherent danger to the human species by mutants, he proposed the creation of robots called sentinels that could sniff out mutants and exterminate them. The plan was initially turned down, but after his death by the hands of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the government moved forward with it by utilizing Mystique’s DNA, which allowed these sentinels to adapt to the powers being used against them. Now, nearly all mutants, as well as regular humans who have the dormant mutant gene in them, have been wiped out. Only a select few remain, including Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). One of the remaining mutants, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), has the ability to transport someone’s consciousness to the past, allowing them to alter history to their liking. The process can be damaging to one’s brain the further back in time one goes, but luckily, Wolverine has regenerative abilities and volunteers to take up the task. With time running out, he is transported back to 1973 to try to convince the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X (James McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique from killing Trask and, thus, ending the mutant/human war before it begins.

It sounds complicated what with the constant back and forth and jet-setting narrative that jumps from New York City to Moscow to China to Vietnam to Paris to Washington, DC and back again, but it never is. “Days of Future Past” is a brilliantly constructed film, a cohesive whole in every way. Not once does it hit a narrative lull or forget to follow up on side stories. It takes dozens of characters, from both the past and present, and juggles them all flawlessly, with characters disappearing only after their narrative usefulness has concluded. No single character is included as fan service, but rather because they are necessary to tell the story at hand.

The beauty of it is that “Days of Future Past” never sacrifices story for spectacle. Everything that makes the X-Men characters great is intact here, including the overall themes of tolerance, acceptance and doing right to others despite the wrong they may do to you. In today’s world of rampant homophobia and other forms of bigotry, the X-Men have never been more relevant and “Days of Future Past” benefits from a setting where such bigotry was more commonplace and where America had just been on the losing end of an unpopular war. Because of the latter, the call to war against the mutants seems less like a necessity than it does a need to retain political legitimacy, to show the people of America that the country is still powerful. Despite its historical setting, the film works today by highlighting increased political tension that leads to unrest, a tension that exists today and seems to only be getting worse.

Even if you took away the terrific story and thought provoking themes, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would be a mesmerizing film, thanks to some of the most mind-blowing superhero action ever put to screen. In particular, one scene focusing on Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is guaranteed to be one of the best, most exciting and funniest moments you’ll see all year. From the moment the film begins, a high bar is set with its action, but instead of dropping off until the slam-bang finale as many films do, it actually gets better as it goes on. Aside from some needless 3D effects, the visuals are astounding and really bring these scenes, and the overall world, to life. Director Bryan Singer, coming off of a two film slump with “Valkyrie” and “Jack and the Giant Slayer,” has never been better. The things he manages to pull off and the control he shows over what would in lesser hands be a cluttered mess makes this his single most impressive endeavor to date.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a special movie. Even those who are finding themselves diagnosed with superhero fatigue after the onslaught of films we’ve been given over the last few years will find their interest reinvigorated after this. Singer does with this what Joss Whedon tried to do with “The Avengers,” but failed: he skillfully juggles each character, giving each important player just enough screen time to make them narratively relevant, and creates a meaningful story amidst the insane action. You could even argue that whereas each of the Avengers were primarily off doing their own things in that film (Iron Man flying around the buildings, Thor fighting his brother on top of one, Captain America fighting baddies on the ground, etc.), the X-Men use their powers in tandem, as a singular group fighting a common enemy, not as multiple heroes spread across a large area, which gives them more of a dynamic in the otherwise hectic action scenes.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” sets a new standard for superhero movies. It reaches about as close to perfection as is possible and is guaranteed to be one of the best of the year. X-Men fan or not, you’re going to want to see this one.

X-Men: Days of Future Past receives 5/5


The East

Everyone’s had that thought when bad things happen to bad people: they deserved it. For instance, would anyone really feel sadness if some faulty wiring caused Kansas’ infamous Westboro Baptist Church to burn down? Probably not. It’s not that we’re hopeful these things will happen, but when they do, it’s hard not to feel like some type of poetic justice has been served. A similar public mindset exists on the discussion of supposed “eco-terrorists,” groups that target corporations and big oil businesses that don’t play by the rules. What these groups do is illegal, but when the actions of those companies have undoubtedly impacted us in a negative way, can we justify ignoring it?

That complex question is at the heart of “The East.” When the titular group breaks into an oil magnate’s home in the opening moments of the film and spreads oil all over his house in response to the dumping of untold amounts of oil in the ocean, one can’t help but feel conflicted. They are clearly breaking the law, but is their greater message important enough to overshadow that fact? There’s no easy answer to this question and it’s why the film, as silly as it can sometimes be, works, even if only slightly.

The East consists of a ragtag group of people who aim to attack a number of large corporations in the coming months. The leader is Benji (Alexander Skarsgard) and he runs the operation. With him are Izzy (Ellen Page), Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) and Sarah (Brit Marling), the latter of whom is actually an undercover operative from a private intelligence firm tasked with infiltrating the group and digging up enough information to eventually bring them down.

The film begins as one might expect, with Sarah eager to prove her worth to her firm and jump in the fray, but what she doesn’t expect is to find is a group of people she can actually connect with. She begins to understand why the East does what they do and quickly realizes that these aren’t bad people; they’re just people, with beliefs and opinions just like the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, when they see something they consider unjust, they do something about it. One of the film’s greatest strengths is that, for the majority of its runtime, it treats its characters fairly. Despite some strange moments, the East isn’t treated like a group of deranged terrorists, but rather people with a passion, however misguided it may arguably be.

As the film goes along, Sarah begins to feel the emotional and mental confliction anyone would. She knows they’re doing wrong, but the wrong they’re doing is merely in the eyes of the law. The real question is, what is considered truly wrong? How can one define it when perceptions of it vary between different people? This internal battle rages inside Sarah and Marling does a wonderful job bringing it out. Her emotional cues are subtle, but you can feel the pang of uneasiness that lies just beneath her pleasant veneer. She embodies the complex feelings one can have towards issues like this that aren’t so black and white.

Where “The East” falters is in its lousy, anti-climactic ending that takes many of these difficult questions and answers them rather bluntly. The entire movie is spent exploring these characters and showing them as the complex human beings they are, only to scrap the idea in the end. It’s an all too common cinematic case of a screenplay that loses faith in itself. A movie with ideas, provocative questions and intelligent themes suddenly turns into your typical Hollywood thriller and the conflicting emotions you may feel of certain characters while watching suddenly turns to disgust with their actions, all confliction thrown out the window. It’s no longer a question of, is what they’re doing and the motivation behind it right or wrong? The answer becomes all too clear.

With a different ending, “The East” could have been something special. Instead, it’s merely a movie that teases you with the possibility of intellectualism before stripping itself of the notion entirely. Although the performances are good and the direction is competent, it’s ultimately the story and the themes that make or break it. In that regard, it’s like a giant crack in a car’s windshield. It still serves its purpose, but all you can see when look at it is its obvious flaw.

The East receives 3/5



It would be underselling it to call The Dark Knight a success. This time two years ago, the world was readying itself for the return of Batman and chomping at the bits. Expectations were high, yet, somehow, they were met. Destined to go down as one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, The Dark Knight changed the way we look at movies. Well, prepare to have that view altered again, this time by Inception, director Christopher Nolan’s ambitious, mind-bending experiment that ranks among the best of the year.

However, explaining why may prove difficult. Having just finished it, with its story behind me and an analysis before me, I think it may be better to just skip the plot synopsis altogether because discovery is better left up to the viewer and, well, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Still, these key things must be understood. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are extractors, men who dive into the minds of their targets and steal information while they sleep. To do so, they need an architect, found in the form of Ariadne (Ellen Page), a person who can construct the dream to make it seem real to the target. Their latest job takes them into the mind of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), but this one is different from the rest. Instead of stealing a memory, they will be implanting one through a process called inception.

In my excitement for this movie, I had a dream. I dreamt I was sitting in a theater and the lights were dimming. The title card appeared and I was ready. I was about to watch Inception. I had been waiting months for it and could hardly contain myself. As it began, however, the crowd became angrily loud. Babies were crying, illiterate kids were asking parents what the subtitles were saying and moviegoers with no etiquette spoke loudly so as to disrupt my enjoyment. I soon awoke and realized how bizarre my dream world had been. The theater was misshapen and it contained no walls, with hallways stretching to the left and right as far as I could see. But it felt so real.

Inception uses this as the foundation for its story. At one point, Cobb tells Ariadne, “It’s only when we wake up that something seems strange.” He explains that in our slumber, our minds play tricks on us and we are unable to distinguish between real and imaginary. This idea is so infused in the movie that the questions it raises linger on well after the credits roll. Cobb has demons of his own and goes into his own dreamlike state to visit a lost love. But is it real? Are those feelings we feel when we’re dreaming—fear, anxiety, happiness, sadness—authentic? If they feel real, who’s to say they aren’t?

While those are important thematic questions, I don’t want to get too philosophical. Inception is an action picture through and through. From a rotating room to a zero gravity battle to a James Bond like ski slope shootout, this film has it all. You’ll see things you never thought were possible, or even thought of at all. You’ll follow the characters through multiple layers of dreams, each stacked on another like a poker chip, but it never gets too confusing. It’s a thinking man’s action picture, which is a breath of fresh air in a summer diluted with idiotic action fare.

If there’s one problem with the film, it would be the lack of emotional connection to what’s unfolding onscreen. So much time is spent on the twisting story that it forgets to provide us with a reason to care. But when your movie is as smart, exciting and unique as this, it’s easy to look past it. Nolan directs with a careful eye, always shooting for practical effects over digital when possible, and masterfully juggles the overlapping dream worlds while the more than capable cast give outstanding performances. All of this adds up to a fantastic, bizarre, imaginative masterpiece of cinema. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like Inception.

Inception receives 5/5