Future Travel

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Maybe a third of the way into X-Men: Days of Future Past, there’s a joke stolen from Shanghai Noon: Quicksilver asks Magneto if he knows karate, and the Master of Magnetism replies, “no, but I know ca-razy.” It’s not especially very funny, but it is particularly emblematic of a movie that, despite its best intentions, still finds itself unable to escape the early 2000s.

Before The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed everything, before the landmark The Dark Knight, and even before Spider-Man was pretty sweet, there were the X-Men. This franchise kicked off the super hero age of cinema (sorry Blade) in 2000 and has somehow been going this whole time, through several sequels and spinoffs and sequels to spinoffs. X-Men: Days of Future Past is an attempt to reign in all those years of continuity and leave the franchise in a place that would allow Fox to compete with Disney on the super hero universe front, all the while pretending the Brett Ratner movie and Sexman Origins never happened. And it does a fun, albeit sloppy job of getting there.

Basically everybody is back, including the cast from First Class, the prequel movie from a couple years ago. How does that work? Time travel! Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and cowriters Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn took the rough idea of the classic comic story, “Days of Future Past” and reappropriated it for the film franchise by making it about the cinematic series’ main character: Wolverine (the increasingly ripped Hugh Jackman). Basically, killer robots called sentinels have Terminator-ed the near future, and it’s up to Logan to travel back to the Seventies to undo the events that led to the creation of sentinels.

It’s pretty clear that Fox would like us to fall in love with the new cast, as most of the movie is spent in the past, where we how find how Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) are coping with the fallout of First Class. There’s no sign of Moira McTaggert, and the other mutants from that movie either get cursory cameos or are mentioned in a list a dead people. But whatever, I like that core four and I didn’t mind getting to spend more time with them.

The problem is, I like the old cast more. Seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan together again is great, and there’s something fun about Ellen Page and Shawn Ashmore again too. And Halle Berry’s there. There are even some fun new mutants that are only in the future, I thought Blink (Fan Bingbing) seemed really cool, and as a Bishop fan, it was cool to see Omar Sy doing his thing. But much of the future stuff is left unexplained, big stuff like how Professor X and Magneto are both alive and have powers, in favor of focusing on that past. And given the way the movie ends, I still kinda just want to see a movie with those original guys.

Maybe that’s over-thinking things, let’s focus on what this movie is. It’s a collection of some of the best fight scenes in this franchises history (I still don’t think anything tops the train scene in The Wolverine). And hey, speaking of new mutants, it’s Quicksilver (Evan Peters) who steals the show. His action scene is the best in the movie, and it’s just refreshing to see someone in this universe who’s not sad or pissed all the time. This is yet another X-Men movie that is focusing on suffering, sacrifice, and civil rights with action surrounding it. So I liked seeing one person, for a change, who seemed pretty stoked to have super powers.

In the end of this admittedly fun adventure, I was left wondering where do they go from here? This was not the simultaneous resetting of the canon and passing of the torch I thought Days of Future Past was supposed to be. It says something when the end of the movie is focused on the old cast, not the new. After all the time we spend with the young cast, the movie didn’t feel confident enough to fully commit to them… Which is a shame because I felt like the movie was almost there. Now that I’m hearing the sequel will have the team facing another apocalyptic scenario that may include both casts, I’m kinda bummed out. But, you know, at least The Last Stand never happened.

Some Kind of Movie – Ep. 5: Size Does Matter

The new Godzilla was not very original when it picked its name, but does the rest of the movie suffer from that same laziness. Find out by listening to this, the fifth episode of Some Kind of Movie. Seems like it would be higher, doesn’t it? It’s been a long time since we did one of these long-form movie review podcasts, the last one was for The Man of Steel. So yeah, this is better than that. Just be sure to see the movie before you listen to this, because we do spoil it. Unless it was already spoiled?!

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What expectations do you have for the latest attempt to make an American Godzilla movie? Are they still low after the 1998 disaster? Did recent successes like Cloverfield and Pacific Rim raise them back up? Did you really like Godzilla ’98 and are simply pissed you had to wait 16 years for a sequel? Do you just not care about things like this anymore, now that you find yourself staring into the yawning chasm that the rest this summer’s slate of movies appears to be? It matters, because what you get out of this new movie depends partly on what you bring to it.

As you well know, I was completely satisfied by Pacific Rim, which took all the best giant monster, mech, and anime tropes and made it into one glorious sensory overload. What was compelling about Godzilla to me, going in, was that it wasn’t supposed to be like that Guillermo del Toro movie at all. The early buzz was that director Gareth Edwards had designed this to be a horror movie more than anything else. I think I even heard the idea was to show what it would be like if the King of Monsters really did show up in the real world. It’s really not that.

The marketing has been pretty good at keeping the story under wraps (and just good in general, that 2001 parachuting trailer is terrific) so I won’t go into many details here. Godzilla shows up to fight creatures called MUTOs, and a soldier called Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is caught up in the destruction. So are the rest of his family, including his dad (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Elizabeth Olsen). The only people who seem to have any idea of what’s going on are a pair of scientists, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, and the admiral they report to David Strathairn.

The biggest weakness of this movie is its choice in characters. Bryan Cranston is horribly underused, but at least he is used, which I can’t really say is the case for most of the supporting cast. Elizabeth Olsen only gets to worry about things and get scared at things, she has no agency at all. The same is true for Sally Hawkins, supposedly one of the few Godzilla experts in the world who does absolutely nothing in the entire movie. Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn have a bunch of scenes where they basically agree to just let things happen as they happen, man.

That leaves Ford as the only character to actually get out there and do something, but he’s probably the least interesting character in the movie. A straitlaced soldier everyman, Ford is designed not to be a someone the audience roots for, but rather a tour guide who can believably lead the audience through the film. He’s that guy that is always right next something really bad, who somehow keeps getting brought exactly to where the danger is despite all the odds. And all he wants to do is get to his family… Who gives a shit? I’ll take the story about the crazy scientist who holds himself responsible, or the lady who wants to kill the MUTOs because they wrecked her home town, or the guy who wants to try to have sex with Godzilla any day over this. This is the most it’s felt like a movie is a ride since, well, since I actually rode Pacific Rim in D-Box. It doesn’t work as well here.

Of course there are plenty of things that don’t make sense, which is just going to have to the case in any story about beings that are too large to every actually physically exist. It hurts the most in scenes where characters somehow can’t find the giant monster and the ridiculous path of destruction they’ve left behind or when they walk right by one of the monsters because it’s standing still in the fog. What, was it holding its breath? We have multiple senses, you know. Not just sight. You’re telling me that thing doesn’t stink? You can’t feel heat radiating off the monster that literally eats radiation? It’s not making any sounds at all?

Despite those complaints, there are more than a few thrilling scenes in Godzilla, and some of them are damn pretty too. That drop scene from the first trailer is pretty epic. As is the final showdown, featuring something I’m sure franchise fans all over the world will be excited to see. And they wreck the Bay Bridge, and I guess that’s something too.

Sadness Is A Blessing

Lykke Li – I Never Learn

Lykke Li is my kind of pop star.  Meaning that she’s a pop star who doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with being a pop star, and therefore tends to avoid this kind of restrictive categorization.  Her last album (Wounded Rhymes), which I liked quite a bit, saw her dodging these constrictions with a playfully eccentric sound that wasn’t afraid to jump back and forth between genres.  And despite her model looks and sweet-sounding soprano, I Never Learn sees her once again defying expectations by making an album that’s pretty much the opposite of what we expect out of a pop album by basically being really sad and heartbreaking.

Supposedly I Never Learn was recorded after Li went through a pretty devastating break-up before the Swedish-born Li convened to Los Angeles to record the album in seclusion.  This isn’t a terribly unique story for what is essentially a classic “break-up record”, but I think it makes it easier to understand where Li is coming from.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  Because the fact of the matter is I’ve never been through the kind of brutal break-up that Li is singing about on songs like “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” or “Sleeping Alone”.  But regardless, I think there’s something undeniably compelling about whenever someone has a gaping hole in their heart, and they’re trying to pull some sort of meaning out of that hole by singing about it.  It’s the reason Fiona Apple albums are so arresting, and it’s the same reason why this one is as well.

Even though this is an admittedly somber and (let’s just say it) depressing album, Lykke Li still has some great pop instincts, which makes I Never Learn an easy pill to swallow if you’re willing to go with it.  There are songs here that do have the kind of insular quality that you’d expect out of an album like this, but I’ve found its best moments to be in songs like “No Rest For The Wicked” or “Heart Of Steel”, which see Li exploring straight-up power balladry.  I guess these songs feel refreshing because the power ballad seems like a fairly underused weapon in the modern pop music arsenal, while more immediately they make an album that’s often doubtful and defeated seem like hope is just around the corner.

Favorite Tracks: “No Rest For The Wicked”, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone”, “Never Gonna Love Again”

The People’s Albums: #36 The Marshall Mathers LP

To quote the great Aaron Lewis, lead singer of the band Staind, it’s been ahwhiiiile since I’ve done one of these.  Basically my excuse is that when you’re dealing with immensely successful pop albums, even the bad ones are usually kind of fun, and thusly still fun to write about.  This week’s album is pretty interesting, but not really that fun at all.  In fact, it’s an album that’s occasionally so unfun to listen to that I couldn’t even get through one of the songs on this album without feeling the urge to click the skip button.  However, I urge you to click the anti-skip button known as the “Continue Reading” button, and see what I have to say about The Marshall Mathers LP.

Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Artist: Eminem
Release Date: May 23, 2000
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12.3 Million Continue reading

2013-14 Network Comedy Wrap-Up: Basically Just NBC & FOX Edition

Despite my affinity for quality network sitcoms, I didn’t feel like any of them from this past year quite warranted individual reviews, since I don’t have a ton to say about them.  So instead, here’s a brief rundown of all the network comedies I kept up with over the course of this 2013-14 TV season, which I’d say is pretty much over at this point.  As you’ll be able to tell, of the big four networks, NBC and FOX are really the only ones I seem to care about nowadays.  Especially since How I Met Your Mother’s conclusion has finally freed me from the laugh-track-laden clutches of CBS, and I’m still pretty bitter towards those heartless bastards at ABC for cancelling Happy Endings (never forget). Continue reading