Tuesday, May 27, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I haven't been quiet about my deep loathing for X-Men: The Last Stand. It's a refilling reservoir of hate, and one that wasn't stymied by the insult of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  It's no secret that the franchise went off the rails for awhile, but what's most interesting about the X-Men saga is perhaps its raw persistence.  Where other comic book films are content to drop the issue, retreat, and eventually reboot from square one, the cinematic timeline of the X-Men looks to its roots to solve its problems. When The Last Stand unfurled the massively detrimental Dark Phoenix saga and blew up the franchise as we understood it, some 20th Century Fox executive somewhere wisely decided to begin a complicated excavation process.  Instead of looking forward, they'd look to the past. Where First Class is certainly a prequel --and a flawed one-- it's one that recaptures the upbeat character energy that made watching X-Men enjoyable.  With the stage set, the franchise continued to step forward, moving the twin galaxies steadily towards each other, keeping their biggest star -- Wolverine-- at the gravitational center. They've found a way for everyone to have their cake and eat it, and when all the elements come together, Days of Future Past is time travel at its most entertaining.


At some point, Jon Favreau was considered indie. Granted, I was a little young when Swingers was a thing, and that moment isn't really part of my memory. Most of what I know about Favreau's career behind the camera can be summed up thusly: Iron Man. When that's the bulk of what you know about the guy, the shift from Marvel blockbusters to a tiny, sun-soaked piece like Chef feels like a move back towards something that could be described as "personal" film making. Compared to the usual summer blow-out, Chef plays as an intimate film with much of the fuss and fight of a public split from the spotlight.  It's hard to separate Favreau himself from the character he's written, Carl Casper, a once-was and could-again-be great chef toiling under the tyranny of a too-stubborn restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman).  As a major critic preps to visit Carl's kitchen, Riva puts the kibosh on menu edits and forces Carl to "play his hits."  The result is a profoundly negative review that results in a public meltdown, with lots of sharp jabs at critics along the way. You can kind of feel the film fighting for its own space in those moments, and as we follow Carl on his gastro-journey, the whole project asserts itself again and again as one of those restless movies about striking out on one's own, hunting, seeking, running towards self-fulfillment.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Yes, it's true: in a monster movie, you shouldn't expect to actually spend a lot of time with the monster. On the high end, you get the monster for maybe half the movie. On the average, though, we're looking at a long suspenseful lead-in, situation development, the sinister sense of something lurking, and, eventually, the arrival of the thing itself in the final third or fourth of the film.  It's a formula, and one the newest iteration of Godzilla adheres to rather rigidly.  This time, our beloved destroyer wreaks global havoc in a nightmarish landscape of contemporary disasters. Where the franchise once belonged rather explicitly to a single nation's tragedies, director Gareth Edwards locates Godzilla's destruction in a place that feels like it should be marked by innumerable trigger warnings. Japan's meltdown at Fukushima in 2011 is mirrored in the film's opening scenes as mysterious electro-magnetic pulses force the evacuation of an entire town. Even before we're introduced to the flesh and blood beasts, we're shown large scale tragedy after tragedy. Later, as the creatures rise, their wake is represented in all-too familiar scenes: tsunamis, earthquakes, attacks that force planes to fall from the clouds and skyscrapers to implode and crumble.  Our kitsch monster is become death, and no one is safe.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Palo Alto

James Franco was rejected from my graduate program. It wasn't a matter of celebrity, curiously, as the people in charge had to be told who he was after the fact. It was a matter instead of something like boring writing. It's a point of odd pride for the small number of us who are in the program, of course, though most of us are fans of Franco's acting work.  Pride aside, it's easy to see why the admissions committee ran dubious of Franco's forays into fiction.  When you've run through your share of workshops and taught your share of undergrad fiction courses, there are patterns and subject matters that tend to repeat. The genre of literary fiction is boiled down, in the workshop space, to a few key themes: adultery, inappropriate relationships, sudden climactic acts of violence, suburban disillusionment, dying loved ones. It's not that these aren't engaging themes, it's just that exactitude of the situations too often repeats. Franco's Palo Alto: Stories is something of a grab bag of the above.  If you take a look at "Just Before the Black" (you can read it here), it plays like the product of someone who dug hard on Jesus' Son and is trying to sort out how to use voice like Faulkner. It's a litany of "well, of course that would happen" and "well, of course they would say thats" that's precocious, sure.  It's got potential, sure.  But ultimately it's a kind of messy blend of abrupt sentences and navel gazing. The story falls flat, forces its epiphany, and reads like something we've read too many times before. Adapt it into a movie? Well, the problems don't just go away.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Neighbors presents an age old battle: those who wish to party must rage against those who wish the party to end. We've all been there at some point, and our role in the war is always in flux, a fluid mobius strip of self-righteousness and exhaustion.  We've also, of course, seen this plot played out repeatedly in comedy after comedy, though often times the battle is one waged between obvious beacons of authority and a gang of likable rogues.  If Neighbors is different it's because this time the party crushers are also party crashers, complicit in the action when they want to be, enraged when they don't.  Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are a couple learning how to raise their newborn daughter in a house they've only recently sunk all their money into.  They're struggling with the recent loss of their social lives and the sort of cabin fever that frequently seems to accompany being chained to the needs of an infant.  When the house next door is sold to a fraternity from the nearby campus, Mac and Kelly don't know whether to befriend its tenants or slip into their newly acquired role as parental figures.  They want to seem cool, young, but also want respect, quiet, and a full-night's sleep.  When they throw the baby in a stroller and walk next door to appease the party gods with a marijuana offering, they meet the frat kings: Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco). 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

We're so deep into Marvel sequels and prequels and spin-offs at this point that the standard run-down of past histories and origin stories writers that might generally accompany this sort of write-up feels 1. near impossible, and 2. totally unnecessary.  It's not-so hyperbolic to claim that the whole damn world runs to the theater each time another one of these movies drops, and the Avengers franchise in particular catches the bulk of that cash.  From that line-up, Captain America has remained one of the less prominent action figures in the bunch, but what he stands for is at once familiar and understood. In the stylized 1940's of the first film, patriotism came easily. In the contemporary political space of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the landscape has become blurry. The Nazis are gone, and the threats aren't so clear anymore. S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't just battling pyrotechnic-wielding super-villains or armies, they're dealing with pirates, cyberterrorists, and threats from within their own infrastructure.

Only Lovers Left Alive

The vampires offered up in Only Lovers Left Alive are extensions of the concept as I've long imagined and understood them: they're beautiful jaded old rock stars, wise to the ways of the world and disheartened by its dull repetitions.  Though the Twilight franchise may have bruised the reputation of the long-suffering monsters, they've long remained my favorite undead beasties on the supernatural spectrum.  The vampire speaks to something more and less human than human, to our addictive natures, our desire to consume, to be forever young, to seek out the thrill of the new.  We see this translated, time and again, into characters who thrillseek to break monotony or who love obsessively, repeatedly, consuming emotions just as readily as they drink blood. Jim Jarmusch picks up all the past strains of vampirism, scrapes off the detritus, and brings us back to the simple basics: vampires as lonely, as seductive, as pale, spindly things, as blood-thirsty, as surviving in shadow, as hermits cooped up with the remnants of past lives. If nothing else, we must thank Only Lovers Left Alive for resurrecting just that, for making the vampire cool again, and for reigniting that old flame: vampire + leather + rock and roll + a sick pair of sunglasses = love.    
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...