Monday, May 26, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past – review

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the sequel to both X-Men the Last Stand as well as X-Men: The First Class. It bridges the gaps well between the young and old cast and makes a pretty exciting story.  The acting is really top notch. The story is gripping and the characters feel rich and developed.  The effects are exciting and have an almost gruesome element to them, which makes for a very entertaining film.

The future is bleak for both humans and mutants. Relentless giant robots called Sentinels have hunted mutants to near extinction.  A small group of mutants lead by Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, and Charles Xavier, played by Patrick Stewart, devise a plan to send the consciousness of Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, back into his past self. There he will attempt to stop the events from occurring that will cause this horrible future.

The cast does a great job with the material. Jennifer Lawrence gives a solid performance as Mystique. Michael Fassbender as Magneto is also very entertaining. James McAvoy is the one who really knocks it out of the park though. His portrayal of young Charles Xavier battling a drug addiction and fear of his powers is incredibly powerful and moving.  Another performance of note was Evan Peters as Peter Maximoff.  It was a very nuanced and amusing way to portray the character of Quicksilver.

The effects are gratifying since they switch from the dystopian future to the 1970s past and the camera work seems to reflect this. In the future the camera captures darkness and shadow nearly constantly, while the 1970s scenes simulate the look of being filmed with the grainy style of a 1970s camera.  In this case, the contrast works well.  The movie has a much darker tone then any of the other films so the ante has to be raised to some degree.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a damn satisfying movie. It has some silly moments such as the distractingly bad hair they gave Peter Dinklage, or how supposedly JFK was a mutant. At the end of the day though, it is an X-Men movie; it’s going to be a little silly.  The movie is still worth seeing in the theater, especially if you were a fan of any of the past films. Just be sure to stay through the end of the credits.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla (2014) – review

Godzilla is the latest attempt to reboot the film franchise. In many ways it succeeds in capturing the mood and essence of the original film. The effects are great and the monsters seem to have a personality all their own, much like the director Gareth Edward’s previous work Monsters. The acting ranges from good to excellent with the gallery of characters. The story itself is really entertaining, though I can see why it might be polarizing to some people.

The movie begins by showing an accident that occurred involving the characters at a nuclear power plant in 1999. Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston, lost his wife in the accident and is still looking for answers 15 years later. He discovers that recent signs are pointing to another devastating event. He brings his son Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, to a quarantined zone to investigate. What are these mysterious people hiding from Joe and Ford? Will it spell doom for a great many people?

The acting in the movie is pretty good for the most part. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is unfortunately pretty wooden considering the horrors that he is witnessing. Elizabeth Olsen does a fine job as Ford’s wife Elle, but it is not her most remarkable performance to date. Ken Watanabe is pretty solid and shows a great amount of awe and reverence for the creatures he is witnessing. The person who knocks it out of the park is Bryan Cranston. He really sells the fact that he is a desperate man looking for answers and has been plagued with guilt over the death of his wife for over 15 years.

The effects are fantastic. The MUTO creatures and Godzilla all seem to possess a great range of personality. When the villainous MUTO lose their eggs I felt sorry for them. The development of the visual and audio effects of the creatures came together perfectly to give the viewer an emotional attachment to them. Godzilla does not get a ton of screen time; when he does appear he owns your attention. His presence and roar are enough to give you goose bumps. When he breathed his nuclear fire it reminded me of seeing one of my first kaiju movies as a kid.

The story itself is reminiscent of the original story in that it is a cautionary tale. Where the original foretold of the dangers of nuclear weapons, this is more about the balance of nature and who is really in control. The monsters take away power, cause tidal waves, earthquakes, and even cause sinkholes. They are grim reminders that we are not fully in control of our world and that the powers of nature are bigger than us. Godzilla does not play the biggest role compared to the humans, or even the MUTO for that matter. However, looking back on the original film Godzilla was not the main focus in that film either.

Godzilla is a really entertaining movie. The few flaws I mentioned should not deter anyone from seeing it. The visuals are stunning and the story is really gripping. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the series or anyone who has never seen a Godzilla film and might like to try one. When it comes right down to it, Godzilla shows that he is still the King of Monsters.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Top 10 Giant Movie Monsters

When you want big action you can’t get much larger than giant monster movies.  We love these movies because threat is often intensified and people need to find unique ways of overcome colossal odds. Some are misunderstood creatures, others are just creatures out of their element; regardless, they are dangerous.  With that being said, here are the creatures that bring the “badness” to the cinema in the biggest way.

10. The Kaiju –Pacific Rim
The Kaiju are aliens that managed to come to our world through cracks in the ocean.  While there are different varieties of Kaiju, humans developed giant robots called Jaegers to defend against them.  Pacific Rim showcases great scenes of cheesy dialogue and incredible effects as giant monsters and giant robots duke it out. The monster design is very impressive. It is the perfect cinematic eye-candy to enjoy without having to think too deeply.

9. The Kraken- Clash of the Titans (1981)
The Kraken is the mythical creature that is near unstoppable.  Only with the head of Medusa can the hero Perseus stop the Kraken from killing the Princess Andromeda or destroying the city of Joppa. The Kraken was one of the many bits of stop-motion created by the genius Ray Harryhausen.  His care and skill gave the illusion of life and personality to each of his inanimate figures. The Kraken is an impressive beast with multiple arms, which had to be a challenge to animate. It is a great display of story and animation.

8. The Aliens- Monsters
Giant tentacled aliens that inhabit sections of Mexico are leaving entire areas quarantined zoned. Two young people attempt to travel though the restricted zone and slowly come across the creatures that they have only heard stories about.  They soon discover that these creatures are not nearly the dumb monsters that the stories report but are fascinated by electric light and actually show signs of tenderness with one another. The film is a lovely story and is worth watching for beautiful imagery and scenes that will leave you talking long after the film is over.

7. The Creature- The Host (2006)
A South Korean film about a large mutated fish-like creature that leaps out of the Han River and takes a man’s young daughter.  The movie follows his family as they search the sewers for their missing kin.  The story faces elements of redemption and courage. The whole family must overcome their weaknesses in order to fight this very literal monster.  The effects are great, the story is well done, and the actors do a great job making this situation seem plausible.  

6. Cloverfield- Cloverfield
As a monster, Cloverfield is like watching a wild elephant running amok. The movie shows that the creature is immense in size, incredibly strong, and apparently covered in tiny creatures (which sometimes seem worse than Cloverfield itself). It is capable of tearing the head off the statue of liberty and hurling it like a baseball across New York. The movie as a whole is interesting as far as P.O.V movies go. It is fairly clever and has wit and is very entertaining.  Sure there are a few cheesy scenes, but it is a movie about a giant monster roaming around New York.  What do you really expect?

5. The Ants- Them!
The 1950s were a time when the fear of radiation was at its peak. Them! was the first of the giant insect movies. Atomic test sites yield giant ants which cause a great deal of trouble for the military as they not only have to take out the nest but find the queens and her hatchlings which can fly. The movie is fun and goofy and is still a cautionary tale of the dangers of the atomic age. It is a corny movie by today’s standards but looking at it for what it was in 1954, you can see how this movie became nominated for an Oscar for its special effects.

4. The T-Rex- Jurassic Park
The T-Rex from Jurassic Park was what stole the show in that movie. Every scene, every roar, was like watching something real. The movie itself is a bit goofy today, however the effects still stand up.  The story of nature not being controlled and not fitting in our world still works (especially as the science of DNA has advanced over the years).  The T-Rex may not have the brains of the velociraptors but it wins by being a huge killing machine.

3. The Graboids- Tremors
In Tremors a Southern town is attacked by colossal worms that kill just about anything they can swallow. The town is filled with many colorful characters and a great deal of the fun and drama comes from seeing how they cope with these bizarre creatures.  The Graboids sense the tremors on the surface but are otherwise blind. They have four large anaconda-like tongues that they use to grab ahold of things and drag things into their gaping maw.  The movie has good effects, fun humor and Kevin Bacon hamming it up. What is not to like?

2. Godzilla- Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla, or Gojira in Japan, was a symbol for the nuclear holocaust. He was unstoppable by conventional weapons, he breathes nuclear flames, and he brings destruction wherever he goes.  Over the years Godzilla would fight a great many monsters as a good guy and a bad guy. In the beginning though, he was used as a destroyer and as a warning that development of destructive weapons will lead to greater suffering and death.  The movie is haunting and also very somber.  This is a very well made and still holds up as a classic of the monster movie genre.

1. King Kong- King Kong (1933)
 King Kong not only is one of the greatest monster movies, it might also be one of the best classic movies. King Kong is a giant ape that fell in love with a blonde woman, played by Fay Wray. Kong is kidnapped and taken to New York where he escapes and climbs the Empire State Building.  The story of beauty and the beast is as classic and as old as the icons, which the film is famous for. This film changed the way movies were made buy showing that advanced techniques could be successful. The film was partially filmed using projected screens behind the live actors and other times scenes were made by building elaborate sets. Many different methods of filmmaking came together to bring this story to life in 1933 and it remains impressive today. It is evident when watching Kong observe humans and after his fight scenes the work the filmmakers put into making him seem very emotional expressions.

A couple of honorable mentions would be to both versions of The Blob films. Giant monsters have been around since the first days of film. They will continue to be there rather it be stop-motion or CGI. They are fun to see in the wake of their destructive force. They can be cathartic in nature making us look inward at ourselves.  Take a chance and see if there are any that you like. Hopefully you will be in for a giant surprise.