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Sunday, May 25, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Before the year 2000 superhero films didn’t get a lot of respect, in the 70s we had Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and in the 80s Tim Burton’s Batman, but aside from those rare success stories the superhero genre never really took off. Then came Bryan Singer, his X-Men movie not only received mostly positive reviews it also managed to make $296,339,527 in ticket sales worldwide.  This was a game changer.
 Bryan Singer left the franchise after doing just one more entry but now he’s back at the helm with X-Men: Days of Future Past and I must say, “Welcome back, sir!” This entry almost makes one forgive him for abandoning us into the hands of Brett Ratner and his lamentable X-Men: The Last Stand.
Well, almost forgiven.

 Based on a comic storyline from X-Men gods Chris Claremont and John Bryne and containing one of my favorite tropes, time travel, Bryan Singer brings us a slam-bam, knock-down, drag-out, balls-to-the-walls adventure film with fantastic action set pieces, brilliant dramatic performances, and a story that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
This film finally allows Ice Man to show his stuff.
 The movie begins in the near future where nigh-unstoppable robots called Sentinels have made Hell on Earth as they wage war on mutant kind and any human who side with them. With mutants on the brink of extinction a mad plan is put into effect, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) will have his mind sent back to his 1973 body so he can prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing an act that will eventually lead to this post-apocalyptic future.
  These Sentinels are just scary freaky.
 This plan hinges on Wolverine being able to get help from a young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who at this particular point in time really, really don’t get along. Both McAvoy and Fassbender give such weight and gravitas to their roles as bitter enemies with a shared pain and love, taking what was introduced in X-Men: First Class then bringing it to a whole new level.
 Major shout out to Evan Peters (American Horror Story) who plays the mutant speedster Quicksilver. He is just so much fun to watch in his all too brief moments on screen that I really hope he gets upgraded to the A-Team for X-Men: Apocalypse.
The villain of the piece is Bolivar Trask played by the great Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) who is kind of like a short Hitler only instead of the Jews he is using the mutant threat to bind humanity together.
 Of course much of the stories heavy lifting is done by the superbly charismatic Hugh Jackman who has played the part of Logan/Wolverine seven times now and he just keeps getting better. Seeing poor future Logan getting plopped back in the seventies is one of the films many joyous moments.
 Time Travel Note: Many films drop the ball when they have characters moving back and forth through time. Falling into the paradox trap is something so many sci-fi time travel movies do, but Bryan Singer uses string theory for the basis of his story and it really works.
“You know that in the comic it was me that went back in time, right? *sigh*
 So once again, thank you Mister Singer for bringing the franchise firmly back on track, tying the original cast members nicely with the excellent group from X-Men: First Class gives us hope for the future.
Let's hear it for Jennifer Lawrence...
...who is awesome in any form.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I love disaster movies. Weather catastrophe, geological upheavals or cosmic threats it doesn’t matter I love them all. Now throw that all into a Sword & Sandal flick and you’ve almost no chance of disappointing me. So it would seem that director Paul W.S. Anderson made a film with just me in mind. So how did it fair?
"Are you not entertained!
I enjoyed the hell out of this movie! Now does that mean I think it’s a good movie? That’s a tougher question as it doesn’t have an ounce of originality in its pretty little head as it basically places Ridley Scott’s Gladiator at the feet of Dante’s Peak with a couple borrowed elements from Titanic. The film is populated with stock characters you’ve seen a dozen times which saves Paul W.S. Anderson from not having to really explain anybody’s motivation and thus get to the disaster that much quicker. Which is what we’re all here to see, well maybe a few women are here hankering to see Kit Harrington’s abs, but mostly it’s the carnage.
The movie begins with the Roman army slaughtering a village of Celts who apparently rebelled against the Empire. General Evil (Kiefer Sutherland’s character is actually named Corvus but for the sake of this review he will be henceforth known as Evil) orders all of the Celts killed to set an example to all like minded people. Somehow a little Celtic boy named Milo is the sole survivor and, after watching his parents brutally killed and his people exterminated, he is captured by a group of slavers.
This little boy skips the Conan the Barbarian “Wheel of Pain” body building routine and just jumps ahead to the gladiator portion of his life where he is now played by Kit Harrington. To the fans of gladiatorial sports he is simply known as The Celt, he is a bad-ass with a sword and all opponents fall before him like wheat on harvest day. He then gets the Russell Crowe transfer from the sticks to The Show with minimal of effort or screen time.
 It’s on his way to Pompeii and the big time that he meets the love interest Cassia (Emily Browning), we know she is the girl for him because though she is a citizen of the Roman Empire she hates Rome, and her and her personal slave are besties. Cassia has cut her Rome vacation short due to the unwanted attentions of General Evil, who is now Senator Evil.
 “I try to do ten evil things before breakfast.”
 Cassia’s parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) need serious funds for their planned renovations of Pompeii and Senator Evil offers to be their patron, but of course he’s got strings attached to this as he later reveals that if Cassia doesn’t marry him he will have her family branded as traitors to the Empire and killed. Basically Kiefer is playing Snidely Whiplash and the only reason he doesn’t end up tying Cassia to some train tracks is because they haven’t gotten around to inventing trains yet.
 “Friends, Romans, country men…lend me a script.”
 Meanwhile, Milo finds himself in another scene blatantly ripped off from Gladiator as he and his new best friend and fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaj) must perform in a re-enactment of a Roman victory, and of course it’s of the genocide of Milo’s people, but surprise surprise it seems ole Milo and Atticus are just too awesome to lose and wipe the floor with their enemies. Who saw that coming?
“Did you see Russel Crowe out there?”
 Historical Note: Gladiatorial games were a business much as sporting events are today, only slightly less homophobic, and as a business having your property fighting to the death every time they step into an arena would be fiscally irresponsible. Less than 10% of fights between gladiators ended in death. This does not count criminals or Christians who would be the ones doing fatal re-enactments of big battles and not the professional gladiators. Having your two best gladiators’ fight each other to the death would be just plain stupid.
 Mount Vesuvius erupts!
The volcanic eruption kind of interrupts the games and the nasty tantrums of Senator Evil. Now we start getting what we paid our $10 bucks for as the coliseum collapses, lava bombs strike the city, and crowds of people stampede for safety. At some point Cassia and Milo fell in love (it involved a horse ride, chicks dig horses) so Milo has to rescue her from certain doom, both the doom of an erupting volcano and the continued machinations of Senator Evil who should really be trying to get the hell out of Pompeii and worry about his love life later.  But you see he is EVIL!

Disaster Movie Note: Seeing as this story takes place in 79 AD one character is missing. The person, usually the hero, who tries to warn the populace of the danger but is ignored. During this time period you weren’t going to run into volcanologist unless they were priests worshiping the god Vulcan. So all we get in this film is the Master of the Games warning Jared Harris that the stadium may be structurally unsound after some minor quakes.  He is of course ignored.
 Paul W.S. Anderson was not content to just give us a rousing pyrokinetic show with lava bombs (Note: There is no evidence that Vesuvius lobbed any such things) but he decided to give us a tsunami as well. The volcano causes the tide to recede and then to rush back in over the city carrying away ships and people in an awesome display of power.
Wait, Pompeii isn’t even a port city, how is this happening?
 The CGI carnage is rather well done and you can see this is where the budget went (certainly not to the script department) and one cannot but gleefully giggle as you watch Senator Evil in a chariot trying to outrace Milo while the city explodes around them. It’s just gloriously goofy.

So yes, this is not the greatest story ever told, but by Vulcan’s beard it was fun. Paul W.S. Anderson delivers what he promised and the cast all provide serviceable performances, with the exception of Kiefer Sutherland whose over-the-top performance and the strange British/Hans Gruber accent is more of a marvel than the volcano, and once again love conquerors all…oh…um…well most of the time it does.
"You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Captain America II: Death Too Soon

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again and this was certainly the philosophy of CBS back in 1979.  After the network’s first Captain America TV movie failed to get a series off the ground  later that very same year they decided to have another go at it. It also failed.  This installment begins with what clearly would have been the shows opening if it had been picked up for a series run as it’s basically a credit montage with lots of shots from the first TV movie and even more endless footage of Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) driving the same coast road in his “awesome” van. After the credits we find Rogers sketching an elderly woman.
This is a marked improvement over his sketching of small children.
This is where we get our first bit of action as Steve saves her from getting hit by a Frisbee, now I’m not saying this isn’t something Captain America would do, because he totally would, but maybe we could focus on something with a bit more bite.
 It is from this sweet old lady that Steve learns a group of muggers is preying on the elderly, waiting for them to cash their pension check and then snatching it away from them. Steve tells her to go ahead and cash her check and not to worry. Sure enough the poor woman is immediately targeted by the local street gang but the minute her purse is snatched Captain America leaps into action. Bursting out of the back of his van on his Super-Bike he races after the purse snatcher and retrieves said purse.
 The mugger decides to pull a knife on Captain America because in this universe nobodies heard of Captain America. Cap throws his shield at the mugger but it flies over the guy’s head (Note: Once again the shield is a silly transparent Plexiglas thing that doubles as his bike’s windscreen), it wobbles slowly through the air before circling back to nudge the mugger in the back rendering him unconscious.
 The action scene isn’t over yet as the mugger’s partner is in a dune buggy and is fleeing the scene. Cap chases after the dune buggy on foot because either he forgot he has a Super-Bike or he saw a sign that said “No motorized vehicles on the beach” and of course he is not one to break the law. Cap yanks the driver out of the dune buggy without any seeming concern that the vehicle continues down the beach on its own where it could potentially run over poor hapless civilians. He then tells the mugger “I want you to remember when you get out of jail pal! The old people in this town are my friends. And if I hear they’re having problems again, I’m comin’ after you! You got that?” He then demands to know the name of every member of the gang. We never find out what he does with these names but I bet he just sent them all sternly worded letters about the perils of a life of crime.
 Finally the actual plot of this movie gets into gear with the kidnapping of Professor Ilson (Christopher Cary) who has been secretly working on a formula that speeds up aging. While being kidnapped Ilson managed to write “MIGU” on a piece of glass with hydrochloric acid, these were obviously patient kidnappers, and it’s these letters that have Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman), Dr. Wendy Day (Connie Sellecca) and Steve Rogers sure that the man responsible is none other than “Miguel” a revolutionary/terrorist responsible for several kidnappings and murders of diplomats all over Europe.
 Professor Ilson is being held by General Miguel (Christopher Lee) inside a prison where the poor man is forced to mass produce his rapid aging formula.  You see the Professor’s hometown has been gassed with the formula and all the residents will rapidly age if not given doses of the cure. Quite the ingenious blackmail ploy.  Miguel is pretending to be the warden so he can work out of this local prison because “Who in the world would think of looking for the famous terrorist Miguel inside an American penitentiary?” Miguel taunts Professor Ilson. Can’t argue with that logic.
 Our heroes realize that the only way Miguel can have Ilson working on this formula is if he provides him with the necessary rare chemicals, so rare that he could only be obtain through smuggling. Steve races to intercept a cargo being unloaded from a ship known for smuggling. Captain America tears into the dockworkers like a Wal-Mart shopper on Boxing Day.
 Cap easily renders them all unconscious but what he doesn’t do is find out if these weren’t just average Joes just working the docks and reacting logically to seeing some idiot in a red, white and blue costume smashing up the place. I sense that there will be several civil suits against Captain America in the near future.
 Rogers decides to track the shipment and follows it to the sleepy town of Bellevelle where he uses the cover of “Wandering Artist” to investigate. Local thugs try and scare him off but ole Steve doesn’t give up that easily, he takes his cat over to the local veterinarian and finds a large crowd lined up out front. It’s there he meets Helen Moore (Katherine Justice) and her son Peter Moore (John Waldron) and where Rogers asks if the kid could show him around the local trails. The mom says they are too busy running a farm which is not the reaction most mothers would probably have to some strange dude asking to go off in the woods with her son. Lucky for us the rest of the film focuses mostly on his creepy stalking of the mom and not the kid.
"No wait, I just want to sketch him!"
 His investigation stalls out because the townsfolk all clam up while he’s around, but he does find out from Dr. Mills that Miguel has contacted the White House and is demanding one billion dollars or he’ll release the rapid aging formula over a major American city. He claims all within its range will age 38 days per hour, and he also provided a cougar cub dosed with the formula to prove it works.
“Who’s the cute kitty?  Oh you’re the cute kitty.”
 The local toughs take another run at Steve but once again as these are just normal yahoos, with no real chance against a super soldier,  he is able to beat the ever living crap out of them with little to no effort.
 The local toughs take another run at Steve but once again as these are just normal yahoos, with no real chance against a super soldier,  he is able to beat the ever living crap out of them with little to no effort.
  “Time for a little assault and battery.”
This lands him in jail but he uses his super strength to bend the window bars in his cell and escape as Captain America. Miguel’s goons’ chase him across a dam where Caps only option is to drive off it into the raging waters below.
“I didn’t kill my wife!”
  With Captain America out of the way and the government refusing to deal with terrorists Miguel is forced to carry out his threat and proceeds with his plan by sky writing the word “Smile” with the rapid aging formula over the city of Portland. His henchwoman then goes on the radio to inform the citizens that they are all going to die of old age rather soon than they expected, unless the government ponies up the money for the cure.  “So call your local congressman!”
Rogers of course has survived crashing down a two hundred foot dam and retreats to the farm belonging to Helen Moore and her son. It’s there that he finds out the whole town has been blackmailed to keep quiet about what is going on, that they have all been dosed with the rapid aging drug but are getting a daily treatment at the veterinarian’s clinic that will temporarily halt the aging as long as the co-operate. With the aid of young Peter and some old fashion sleuthing they figure out that Miguel is hiding out at the nearby penitentiary. Captain America races to action!
 Miguel orders that the biggest dogs in the prison be given a triple dose of the aging formula and sick them on Captain America. Now at no point in this movie has it been established that this formula does anything else but age you faster, nothing about increased aggression or strength is ever mentioned. So Miguel’s plan should pit Captain America against dogs dying of old age. What a challenge!
The wagging tails add that extra dash of menace.
 Miguel escapes out the East Gate with the antidote and Captain America gives chase in the most awesome way possible, in his Super-Bike that transforms into a hang glider.
 After an exciting hang glider vs guy in station wagon chase that reaches speeds of up to 55 mph Cap lands and tracks Miguel into the woods. “Too late General; I have your exact position now. You’re 20yrds north and 30yrds west of me.” Captain America informs Miguel because apparently Cap has some kind of Super-GPS power as well enhanced strength and reflexes.
 Cap tries that ole throw shield passed the villains so it circles back and hits them from behind, but it fails as Miguel easily ducks it.
 “You didn’t expect to fool an old jungle fighter with a boomerang trick like that, did you?” Miguel laughs. The General then throws out that old chestnut that in “Any other circumstance we might have been friends.” Yes, Captain America and a world renowned terrorist have so much in common; if it wasn’t for the killing of hundreds of innocent people, they definitely would have hung out and gone to ball games together.Miguel tries to shoot Cap but that pesky shield gets in the way so he goes to plan “B” tosses a bottle of the rapid aging formula at him. Cap throws his mighty shield, breaking the bottle, causing its contents to splash all over Miguel who proceeds to age very, very rapidly.
 This then gives us Captain America wrestling with a decrepit old man. Another awesome challenge for our hero!
Cap shrugs him off and then watches in horror as General Miguel dies of old age right in front of him.
To the films credit the aging make-up is really good.
 Simon and Steve outfit a helicopter with a crop dusting sprayer and dose the city of Portland with the cure, but more importantly Steve returns to the town of Belleville to hook up with Peter and his mom.
Totally not creepy.
 This was CBS’s last attempt at getting a Captain America series off the ground and anyone can clearly see why it failed.  The heroics vary between bland and boring, the plots were poorly constructed, and Reb Brown was just terrible as the titular hero.  Even adding such great actors as Christopher Lee couldn’t help.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Captain Americaa (1979)

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as an answer to Adolph Hitler but who then grew out of his WWII origins to team-up with modern heroes and to eventually end up leading The Avengers. Captain America is the heroic icon of honor and perseverance. Steve Rogers does not give up whether he’s fighting Nazis or sentient robots, but do you know who else also doesn’t give up? Hollywood.   And because of that sticktoitiveness we have had Cap showing up in various incarnations over the years.  In 1944 they gave us a Captain America serial and though limited by a low budget it was the Cap from the comics. Flash forward to 1979, once again television gets its grubby hands on the old Red, White and Blue and it’s a whole other story.

In 1978 CBS had a hit with The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, so it’s not surprising that they’d try and see if lightning would strike twice, it didn’t. Now The Incredible Hulk series pretty much abandoned all elements from the comic book character aside from “Scientist turns green and large when angry” and grafted that element to basically a rip-off of The Fugitive. This worked mostly because of Bill Bixby’s charm and kids everywhere loving to see a green Lou Ferrigno bashing through walls. Now a year later CBS gave us a Steve Rogers/Captain America that is just as divorced from its comic book origins but in this case it fails miserably. Let’s see why.
"Just me and my sweet, sweet ride."
Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is a former Marine who has left the military to drive around in his van in the hopes of turning into Jack Kerouac. Gone is the physically weak man with the heart of a lion who is willing to be transformed into a Super Soldier so that he could fight evil. This Steve Rogers just wants to hang around at the beach sketching young children.
So this isn't totally creepy, right?
 When Dr. Simon Mills (Len Birman) tells Steve that his father developed a special serum called F.L.A.G. (Full Latent Ability Gain) that would enhance a person’s strength and reflexes, poor Steve is barely interested. Sadly it turns out that Steve’s dad used his own genetic make-up as part of the formula so that if anyone else used F.L.A.G. it would eventually kill them, but as a son he carries the same genes so it’s possible that it could work on him. Steve wants no part of this because it doesn’t involve his van, sketching or just hanging out at the beach.
Endless summer.

 A friend of Steve’s father calls for help but Steve is too late and thus he finds himself investigating the murder of this scientist/friend who may have been selling state secrets. Evil villain Lou Brackett (Steve Forrest) finds out about Steve’s involvement and wonders if he may have heard the dying man’s last words as to where a missing microfilm might be, he is also worried that Rogers may eventually be given F.L.A.G. and become a threat to his evil plans.  In one of their attempts to get Rogers, our poor “hero” is sent flying off a cliff.
Safety Tip: Do not make motorcycles out of explosives.
 Steve is fatally wounded and is dying on the operating table when Dr. Simon Mills steps in and administers the F.L.A.G. serum to save his life. This does in fact save his life and of course this pisses Steve Rogers off for some bizarre reason.
"We can rebuild him, stronger, faster, beefier than before."
 He refuses to be tested to see if he’s gained the benefits of the serum because he doesn’t want to know if it’s worked or not. “I’m not unconscious now, the choice is mine. I don’t choose to play.” Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately the villains of this piece didn’t get the memo that Steve can’t come out and play and they try and capture him again. With his enhanced strength he makes quick work of the thugs.
Time for Rocky Balboa work-out
 Later Dr. Mills explains to Steve that his father wasn’t just a scientist but that he fought crime and corruption in high places and that his enemies mockingly called him “Captain America.” So Rogers finally agrees to help and become a secret government agent. He gives Dr. Mills a sketch “For your scrapbook.”
 Steve Rogers shows up at a top secret testing ground to find out that Dr. Mills has tricked out Steve’s van so that it now includes a hidden compartment that conceals a super-bike that can be launched out the back via a turbo boost. Steve has fun time driving his awesome Captain America bike down some dirt trails and over an Evel Knievel ramp when suddenly a helicopter loaded with bad guys show up.
"Viva Knievel!"
 Once again these thugs are taken out with a minimum of effort and action.  But while all this was going on Steve Brackett kidnapped two of Steve’s female friends, found the missing microfilm, completed his neutron bomb and now plans to blow up a major US city. With the use of super hearing (borrowed sound effects from the Bionic Woman), Rogers discovers that the bomb is at Brackett’s oil refinery and so at the one hour twelve minute mark of our ninety-seven minute movie we finally see Steve Rogers suit up as Captain America.  To say it was not worth the wait is a gross understatement.
 Before Captain America can go after the truck and the bomb he must rescue the two damsels in distress which involves him throwing his shitty Plexiglas shield that also serves as his bike’s windscreen, and spraying oil all over the ground to make the security guards slip and slide.
 Not really the action pack scene one hopes to see when viewing a Captain America movie. He does manage to save the women but the bomb has been moved out via truck to the Phoenix Interfacial Gold Depository where, because it’s a neutron bomb, it will only kill the people and leave the gold unharmed.
This film contains more than one type of bomb.
 Steve and his bike get a lift via helicopter so they can track down the evil truck, but they have to be careful because Brackett has rigged the bomb’s trigger to his heart, if his heart stops the bomb goes off. So of course the only solution is to get aboard the truck and bend its exhaust pipe so that the truck’s exhaust floods the cargo area.
 Yes, in this movie Captain America takes out the villain with carbon monoxide poisoning. He then has to quickly perform CPR on Brackett to prevent the bomb from going off. So for those of you that wanted a version of Captain America where he was forced to become a hero and then asphyxiates the villain to save the day, well then this is the film for you.
"Is Megaforce hiring?"