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Entries in patrick stewart (2)

Friday
May232014

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

Friday
Jun292012

Ted

I wanted to start this review by saying that expectations were high for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature length film, Ted, but let’s face it. Being a fan of that show (especially after its return from cancellation when it devolved from cheerful subversion into intentional offensiveness) means already having such low expectations, it would be impossible to not exceed them. Ted thankfully manages to build some heart amidst its inanity, which is something Family Guy has never done in its 13 year existence, but its comedy is still well within MacFarlane’s comfort zone. He fails to branch out like he should, making Ted one of the most redundant comedies to come out in quite some time.

The movie begins in Boston in the mid-80’s. A young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) goes about his days friendless and lonely until one Christmas morning his parents give him a stuffed teddy bear. That bear eventually becomes his best friend and one night he wishes that he would come to life so they could be best friends forever. A voice over narration provided by the always wonderful Patrick Stewart explains that there is nothing more powerful than a child’s wish (except for an Apache helicopter, of course) and the next morning, the bear springs to life. He becomes an overnight celebrity, but never forgets his friend John. Now John (Mark Wahlberg) is all grown up and he and his bear, whom he named Ted (MacFarlane), live together with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). Lori is becoming tired of being the third wheel in their bro-mance, however, and things begin to change, much to the chagrin of the two friends.

There’s a joke fairly early on in Ted where Ted makes a joke, then Lori makes essentially the same joke in a different manner. Ted then condescendingly remarks on how Lori basically just took his joke and then repackaged it. It’s an ironic moment because MacFarlane has been doing that for years. The same handful jokes have been played over and over and over again in Family Guy and his lack of comedic flexibility pours over into Ted, to the point where at least one of the characters in the movie is nothing more than a live action version of someone from his show. Aside from the greater freedom provided by the film format in regards to content and the language used, this is simply more of the same from MacFarlane, including copious amounts of out-of-date or obscure pop culture references to things like Diff’rent Strokes, Top Gun, Saturday Night Fever, the Pink Floyd song, “Another Brick in the Wall,” and even Flash Gordon, the latter of which plays from nearly the first frame to the very last.

But it’s not just the pop culture references that are played out. MacFarlane, being the outspoken atheist he is, makes quite a few religious jokes, at least two in the first few minutes, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing had he not already beat us over the head with his beliefs in his television shows. Similarly, the film makes multiple references to 9/11, another strange obsession MacFarlane has joked about far too many times before, and it’s just not funny, not because it’s offensive, but because it’s unnecessary. One must praise him for his political incorrectness in a world that stresses the importance of the opposite, but you can’t help but feel like he says these things solely because he knows they’re controversial, hoping the audience will mistake forced controversy for humor.

It’s such a sad state of affairs because MacFarlane is a gifted voice actor, even if his style of comedy has run its course. He delivers his lines with spot-on comedic timing and an enthusiasm that few match. Put him in an animated movie written by someone who has comedic range beyond controversial topics and bodily function jokes and he’ll amaze like none other.

Because it spends so much time on pop culture references and jokes about defecating on a hardwood floor, Ted barely manages to muster up much of a story and the character relationships are thin, the little bit of its aforementioned heart coming more from childhood memories over the loss of a loved toy than from the movie itself. That’s not to say those references aren’t occasionally amusing (and if there was ever a movie that delivered a poop joke as well as one possibly could, it’s this one), but Ted is hardly breaking new ground. This is the same old same old we’ve grown accustomed to through the many years of Family Guy’s existence. Of course, if you’re still a fan of that show, I imagine you’ll find Ted hilarious. As for me, though, I wanted something more than what I’ve seen nearly 200 times already on television.

Ted receives 2.5/5