Saturday, June 06, 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past is super great

This is. The last one, and my marathon is over. Happily, we're ending with a good 'en:

X-Men: Days of Future Past

What do you get when you mix a nonsensical script, high school level acting, dodgy made-for-TV special effects, and a ridiculously sluggish, sleep-inducing pace?

Not Days of Future Past, which is neck and neck with X2 as the best of the seven-film X saga.

Fassbender OWNS
I mean, what DOESN'T this thing get right? It opens with a bang, showcasing a grim dystopian future and wickedly creative use of mutie powers, plus gruesome mutie death. Logan is quickly sent back in time and the plot is instantly surging along. Unlike flicks like X-Men, Origins and The Wolverine, Days of Future Past knows where it's going and wastes no time getting there.

BOOM, we catch up with Professor X. BOOM, now we've met Quicksilver. BOOM, Magneto is rescued in the most awesome scene of the series (only Nightcrawler in the White House comes close). BOOM, we're in Paris watching Mystique's badassery. PAUSE for a brief lull before the last act, then BOOM, we're seeing two climatic showdowns at once, both packed with eye candy on a scale bigger than the series has ever done.

Sure, sure, we have no damn idea how Kitty Pryde is sending people back in time (seriously, how does she do that?), and the magically overpowered Quicksilver had to go be a teenage boy otherwise the movie's problems could have been solved in three minutes (which is lazy writing), and Magneto's plan at the end is kind of not-very-smart for a dude who is usually pretty smart (what did he hope to accomplish, exactly?), and how the hell does Mystique know where Wolverine sank into the river and how'd she manage to replace Stryker so quickly (and why is she even going after Wolvie in the first place?), and why does Logan have metal claws in the future again (and grey hair; he didn't age for 150 years, then in the next 20 he goes grey?), and Hank's serum makes Charles able to walk but suppresses his powers? How are these things even related? Oh, and Magneto can lift entire stadiums now? For real?

But whatever. Who cares?

And God said "Let there be awesome," and it was awesome
The movie is way too awesome to care about ANY of that. It's got the best, most creative, most "wow!" use of powers in the whole series, the acting is great, the pace is impeccable, the story is excellent. The whole thing is just really well put together. You start to watch and zooooom, you're off to the races and it doesn't let up until the end.

Plus, it miraculously manages to be a sequel to First Class AND the original trilogy at the same time, which is a neat trick and throws in a reboot for good measure without that reboot feeling like a total cheat.

What's not to like?

Excellent stuff. Arguably the best, or at least tied with X2 for that honor. Hell, let's take it a step further: it's not just one of the best X movies, it's one of the best superhero movies overall, period.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Wolverine: The one that doesn't suck (as much)

Another day, another X-movie. By now you should know the drill, so let's go:

The Wolverine (unrated extended edition)

Poor wittle Wulberine's heart is broken because he stabbed his crush to death, then a Quirky Asian Girl shows up and brings him to Japan, where he fights ninjas and sleeps with gorgeous women.

This second Wolverine movie is a huge upgrade from the first insomuch as it's not a colossal pile of excrement. In fact, there is a lot to like here.

This is what we wanted
Exploring the thread's of Jean's death was a good choice. Gettin into Logan's adventures in Japan was a great choice. The tone is somber and moody and pretty much on point. Great acting by Jackman. Ninjas! Suppressing his powers was a total plot contrivance -- "oh, look, he's in real danger now!" wink wink -- but it worked. All good pieces to add to your LEGO creation, if your LEGO creation is a movie about a guy with claws fighting ninjas and exploring more of his mysterious (not largely uninteresting) past.

But there is also lots to dislike.

It moves along at a glacial pace. The story doesn't make a damn bit of sense. (Seriously, old guy asks for Wolvie's power, Wolvie says no, Wolvie gets poisoned and his power suppressed ... and they then let him go? Really? Why not just frickin' capture him and take his power right then and there? HE WAS SLEEPING IN YOUR HOME FERCHRISTAKE!!) Old man in a big giant samurai suit is totally incongruous with the rest of the movie. Lady Viper is ... why is she here again? What is her motivation? Because it's not at all clear why this mega bitch has a hard-on for being evil and for doing bad shit to Logan. The hell? And so on.

The extended edition adds about 10 more minutes that you really don't need to see, a few additional F bombs, and blood. The latter bit is the best addition. For the first time on film, Wolverine's claws do actual damage to the human body. It's not full-on gore, but there are a few subtle limb removals, tiny bits of blink-and-you-miss-it splatter, and at the end of battles his claws are actually covered in blood.

So there is that.

Instead we got Lost in Translation With Claws
But my second viewing left me pretty unimpressed. Watching the extended edition was probably a bad choice, because even the theatrical cut needs about 20 minutes cut from it. This version needs a solid 30 or more. Tighten this bitch up and it'll be solid but not great.

As it stands, the fantastic tone and awesome setting only barely manage to balance out the nonsensical story and sludgy pacing. Hell, you're more than an hour into the flick and it's STILL not clear what is happening aside from the fact that people want to kill Mariko and Wolverine's powers are on the fritz.

The Wolverine was heaped with praise by many when it was first release, cited as the movie that finally got Wolverine right. In retrospect, eh. 'Tis okay, but that's about it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

X-Men: The Last Stand is way better than you think

I'm re-watching all the X movies in chronological order, but all you need to know is that I am going to talk about this movie:

X-Men: The Last Stand

lol wut
Sometimes when you revisit a bunch of stuff you haven't seen in a while in a "re-examination" kind of way, your eyes are opened to things you hadn't seen before and your opinion changes. Other times, your existing views end up being reinforced with even greater strength.

When it comes to X-Men: The Last Stand, it's the latter -- and that seems to put me in the minority

The movie is often trashed, but I feel like it's trashed for the wrong reasons. Ardent fans hate it because it didn't do Dark Phoenix right, because of how Scott was killed, and because of Prof. X dying, among other reasons.

But you know what? That's just a lot of comic book baggage. I think those are only legitimate complaints if you're judging this on how good an adaptation it was. Taken on its own terms, the above issues are just fine and are right in line with the other two movies.

Who the hell ARE the assholes?
Jean's story is a solid culmination to a story that had been building for three movies (in the first, she talks about how the Prof is helping her control her power). The way it plays out isn't classic Dark Phoenix, sure, but judged on its own merits it plays just fine with a suitably tragic end.

Scott's death is flawed, but not for the reasons people say. Storywise, it was an effective and well-placed way to show that Jean's return is something that will go very very wrong very very quickly; it showed that she has so little control she couldn't even stop herself from killing the man she loves. The flaw isn't that Scott was killed, it's that the audience doesn't much care for him. By making Logan the focal point of the previous movies, we don't really get close to many other X-Men. Scott is just a guy who was kind of an ass to Logan (and vice versa), so his death didn't resonate. But shortchanging his character is a flaw in PREVIOUS movies, too, not just this one. As a story beat, it works.

The biggest flaw with The Last Stand is in the writing, specifically the dialogue. It's clunky and obvious and filled with questionable one-liners and We Don't Trust The Audience To Get Nuance So We're Going To Make This As Obvious As Possible conversations and cliches. That aspect of the movie is genuinely pretty bad. Worse than pretty bad: it's often awful. Easily the worst dialogue of the trilogy. At times it was almost distracting. I felt the urge to roll my eyes more than once.

So, legit flaw there. The writing can be kind of dopey.

But the story is tight as hell. They successfully marry two core storylines -- the mutant cure and Jean's decay -- without things feeling crowded. They pack in a TON of mutants, and Ratner & Co. actually manage to give a good deal of them some time in the spotlight. The first movie didn't manage to give this many people solid character moments, and it had far less characters overall. The Last Stand gives almost EVERYONE time to shine.

Plus, Halle Berry's hair looks really good in this one. :)

Fan Wank
And like X2, it has a bunch of memorable sequences. Not as many as X2, sure, but it has its fair share. Magneto's awesome rescue of Mystique. Xavier and Magneto visiting young Jean. Magneto lifting the Golden Gate Bridge (which was admittedly completely unnecessary). The battle at Jean's house. And of course, the super mega mutant battle at the end, which is the massive mutie conflict we dreamed of seeing in the first two but never got. It's huge, it's full of action and cool powers, and it holds up very well.

Plus, the whole thing slides by at a brisk 104 minutes. That's amazing considering how dense it is!

It had been a few years, but this viewing confirmed what I've long thought: The Last Stand haters are nuts. They're bringing comic book baggage to the movie instead of judging it on its own terms. It ain't perfect -- the dialogue really is atrocious, and it's not nearly as emotionally resonant as X2 -- but it's FAR from the series-killing disaster some make it out to be. It's especially satisfying viewing if watched right after the previous two.

X-Men: The Last Stand. You're wrong about it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

X2: X-Men United is as good as you remember

I probably made some post somewhere saying that I'm watching all the X-Men movies in chronological order and will comment and stuff and whatever and stuff. True story! It assumes you know the movies well, so I don't bother with a summary or synopsis or whatever, and here is more:

X2: X-Men United

This is more like it! X2 is everything the first movie is not. It's smarter, it's more finely honed, it's more exciting, it has more emotion, it has a better narrative, better use of powers, better setpieces, and so on.

wasted opportunity
Maddeningly, X2's strength is highly reliant on the first movie, so you kind of HAVE to take them together as a single package. That kind of sucks.

But in some ways it's worth having such a lousy intro if the result is a movie this good. Unlike the first movie, which has close to zero memorable sequences, this one is chock full of them. Nightcrawler's stunning raid on the White House (still one of the coolest sequences in all superhero movies). Wolverine going balls out during the raid on Xavier Mansion. Magneto's badass escape from prison. Pyro taking out the cops. Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike. Jean saving the rest of the team.

Every one of them is thrilling, visually arresting, and well-staged.

That said, one thing I had never noticed before is how damn LONG the third act is. They are in the Weapon X facility for a long long long long time, so long that it flirts with getting wearisome. Only just a bit, it's not a major flaw, just something that really stuck out to me this time.

Another thing about the cool scenes and major setpeices of this movie: they are proof that if well-staged and well-choreographed, you don't need an epic scale and major CGI for them to be thrilling. The raid on the mansion, for instance, is pretty low tech, all things considered, yet it's AWESOME.

Anyway, X2 is still great stuff.

Another thing I learned: it's stupid to take blog posts too seriously. Save that shit for books.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

X-Men, the movie that started it all (but that isn't as good as you think)

Somewhere I posted about the fact that over the next seven days I am posting about the X-Men movies, and am doing so in chronological order rather than release order. Look for that, then read:

X-Men (aka the first one)

While there are arguably a few other contenders, I think it's pretty safe to say that the 2000 film X-Men ushered in the modern era of superhero movies. Without it, we wouldn't have flicks like the Avengers.

So from an historical perspective, it's a noteworthy film in the genre. It's a genuine LANDMARK for the genre, and for that it deserves credit and respect.

From an entertainment perspective, on the other hand, it's looking a bit sluggish these days.

Wait, I'm irrelevant?
Though there are some excellent initial scenes -- Magneto in the concentration camp, Wolverine doing cage fights, Rogue's first kiss, Wolverine's tour of the mansion -- it takes a little bit for the story to develop a clear focus. The entire first act is gone before you have any inkling of what the conflict even is. Magneto is a bad guy with bad mutants working for him, and he wants Wolverine (or so we think). That's about the extent of it.

Senator Kelly is kidnapped and turned into a mutant, but why should we care? He was painted as a villain in the early part of the film, so we have absolutely no concern for his well being. We're not invested in him at all.

Then Magneto gets Rogue, and it's a quick scramble to a lackluster finish at the Statue of Liberty. It's not well staged or choreographed, lacking the big WOW you want from a team battle. Even in its day the finale was probably the most disappointing part of the film -- all the character stuff and previous action setpieces were all superior -- and today it looks like something made for TV. At the time it was cool because it was all we had, , so it deserves credit for being first, but that's damning with faint praise, innit?

They made the movie just so they could have this scene
That's not to say there isn't still a lot to like here, because there is. The casting is largely strong. Touring around the mansion is super fun. Logan and Rogue's relationship differs from the comics for the better. The acting is generally very good (except, oddly enough, by Ian McKellen. He's usually brilliant, but he doesn't come into his own in this role until X2). The sequence at the train station was really well done, as was Magneto's fantastic confrontation with the police. The dialogue has a lot of information to get across, but manages to do so without being clunky. Even Professor X's exposition to Logan is fairly seamless.

Plus, this movie isn't shy about codenames. Even today, many superhero movies are scared to fully embrace the idea. This one is just like, "Oh, this is Scott Summers, but you can call him Cyclops." That's refreshing.

Ultimately, though, by today's standards this is pretty middle of the road. Unlike some of the other X flicks, there is little reason to revisit this one. And yes, some people argue that you should judge it in the context of its time. That's a fair argument, but talking about this film's historical context is also another sort of discussion. What I'm interested in right now is how these films look NOW, compared to what we see TODAY, not their place in the grand scheme of things.

Historical context? We can do that another time. In that discussion, this movie fares much, much better.

CONTINUITY notes: There aren't as many niggles as you'd imagine, and several are easy to explain away. Sabertooth, for instance? Eh, different guy than the Sabertooth from X-Men: Origins. Wonder why Scott didn't remember the dude with frickin' metal claws who rescued him from Three Mile Island? It actually fits fine: Scott's eyes were covered the whole time he was in captivity, so he never saw Logan. The only "big" stuff is minor: the age Xavier says he and Erik met, and Xavier claiming to have built Cerebro with Magneto (which in theory could still happen - he didn't say he developed it, he said he built it), both conflict with what we see in X-Men: First Class.

Monday, June 01, 2015

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and why it's worse than bad parking

In some post I can't be bothered to link to, I pointed out that all week I am going to be re-watching and reviewing the X-Movies, so now you know what this is and here we go. Oh, and this assumes you have seen them before, so SPOILERS. Oh 2, I'm going to breeze through this one, especially since it sucks:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

My enduring memory of this was pretty bad, so I was interested to see if perhaps I was being a little unfair and if memory and reality would end up being in conflict.

Nope. It really is as a bad as I remembered. I don't even know where to begin. Even if you ignore the cringe-inducing dialogue, terrible story and ham-fisted attempts to cram in mutants who don't belong in the story and instead focus on the awesome action setpieces ...

Whatever, dude

... well, they're not that awesome. They're kind of stupid, actually, and the dodgy special effects make them even worse. Wolvie versus the chopper? Could have been cool, but is instead filled with stupid. Wolvie vs. Deadpool on top of Three Mile Island? Just dreadful. Logan boxing with the Blob? Silly, and not in a good way.

Plus so many awful cliches. The kindly old couple who take the hero in because he reminds them of their son. The woman who faked being in a relationship with the lead in order to betray him, but wait, no, she actually had true feelings for him all along! The "my loved one is dead, oops, guess she's not dead after all" cliche. My brother is my enemy. The "someone is hunting down the old team" cliche. Father sacrifices his son for some misguided greater purpose. Etc etc. etc. etc.

Jeez!!!

It's like they filled out a bunch of flashcards with bad movie cliches, shuffled them up, drew seven or eight of them, and wrote the script.

This movie is bad.

What the fuck?
It occurred to me while watching it that chronological was not the best choice for this X marathon. From a storytelling perspective, this should be viewed after X2, when you finally get a real glimpse into Wolvie's mysterious past. Only then should you reveal his origin. It plays better if, when you initially meet him in the first X flick, you don't know the details of that past.

On the same token, structurally, this movie botched it by telling the story in a linear fashion. Leading with the flashback to childhood, yes. Going through all the wars and showing the Vietnam stuff, no.

The story would have been FAR better served if we went from childhood to Logan in Canada living in peace. Stryker would show up as some mysterious (to the audience) dude talking about events we didn't yet know about. That would have been intriguing. Then Logan's girl gets killed and Victor shows up. Over the course of the movie we see all the past wars and 'Nam and all that, dropped into appropriate spots. It would have played much better if that stuff was initially a puzzle for the audience to riddle out.

Granted, wouldn't have fixed the shitty dialogue and nonsensical action.

So basically, it would have sucked anyway.

And MAN, it sucked.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

X-Men: First Class, and it is good (not great) but very. Good.

My X marathon begins!

And for what it's worth, I'm starting pretty shallow, with some lightweight comments and such. Totally mailing it in for the first few movies. The reason is because I am. Seriously. Ripping this one out because in truth what people REALLY want is to know why I think you're dumb for insulting The Last Stand.

So to get the obvious stuff out of the way,

Impeccable, and ALSO IN MY NEW BOOK THANKS ORDER HERE THANK YOU http://www.amazon.com/Celebrating-Mad-Men-Unofficial-Characters/dp/1512301655/ THANKS
First Class is close to impeccable. Marred only by writing that is too wink wink nudge nudge, it's got pretty much everything you want from a good mutant movie. Pathos. Humanity. Thrilling action. Creative use of powers (the most creative of all seven X flicks, actually). A relatively smart plot. An awesome finale. Etc.

Plus it being a period piece is never used as a gimmick, but instead adds to the world in many small, subtle ways. Toss in some great acting, killer special effects, tight pacing, and three hot babes, and ... Yep. Terrific.

I should probably write more about it, but I have leftover pizza in the oven and really need to go get it before it burns.

So real quick flaws before I lose my pizza: winky winky nudge nudge. This damn movie is piled so high with it that the issue ceases to be a nitpick and becomes a genuine flaw. There's all the cringe-inducing "and here is how the X thing got its name" stuff, which is awful. Loads of not-very-clever winks to what will happen in the future of the X universe, such as multiple bald jokes about Xavier. Even the social commentary is clunky as hell. When Hank is revealed as a mutant, for instance, he tells his boss, "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell."

Really, writers? Really!?

OH HEY GUIZ YOU MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED BUT THE X STUFF IS TOTES A METAPHOR FOR BEING GAY AND STUFF BUT YOU PROBS DIDN'T NOTICE IT CAUSE WE ARE LIKE PRETTY SMOOTH ABOUT IT!!! Preeeeetttty subtle!!!

Guh.

Revisiting the X-Men flick: 7-film marathon time!

I grew up a comic book geek (among other things). Growing up a geek has shaped and molded me in ways I'm still discovering today, some of them good, some of them not so much. As an adult, I remain unashamed of my geekdom, and that is likely to be the case until I die of old age at 53.

All of this means I'm about to take something silly way too seriously.

And I am. You'd better bet your damn life on it.

This is a long-winded, pointless, unnecessary way to say that over the next seven days I'm going to watch and review/comment on/post about the X movies. For the uninitiated, that translates to "movies in which Hugh Jackman disrobes and shows off his increasingly veiny chest." They were initially made by Bryan "You DO Want To Make It In Hollywood, Don't You?" Singer, and then other people jumped in, and then he jumped in again, and now it's way messier than what Marvel Studios is doing.

It's like a crazy dance of shirtless Australians and (allegedly) predatory directors AND COMIC BOOK HEROES COME TO  LIFE AND OH SHIT I ACCIDENTALLY HIT CAPS LOCK. Now it's off.

So from the first Bryan Singer movie to X-Men: Days of Future Past, and even bullshit like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I'm going to watch them all and offer commentary you can argue with, and maybe the cure for cancer. You never know. It all starts in like an hour or something. Whatever.

Not in release order, by the way. I'm going to do it in roughly chronological order, based on movie continuity. Also, the first few, I'm mailing this shit in. So GEEK IT UP, YO.

Also, the caps lock thing was for real.

Friday, May 29, 2015

So I have to be an accountant, too?

When you daydream of being a Writer, sitting at home doing Important Work and actually getting paid for it, you most certainly DON'T daydream of filing tax documents, managing bank accounts, chasing people for money, and other such nonsense.

Yet you're sure as hell going to end up doing it, and plenty of it, too.

They never tell you this. (Never mind who "they" is.) No one explains that if you plan to make a go of supporting yourself as a freelance writer, your days will be just as filled with "business" stuff as they will with writing. They never tell you that you'll sometimes have to rattle cages just to get paid for work you did, or that dealing with the tax man will become a constant game of This Sucks: Deluxe Edition.

This is probably one of those self-evident things that focused, sane adults can spot a mile away. If you're foolish enough to think that devoting yourself to writing full time is actually a sane life choice, though, you probably don't fall into the Thinks Things Through And Has A Good Grasp On Reality category (he says while looking in the mirror).

So here's the deal: If you just start writing for pay, start making some headway at it, and then file your taxes like normal, you are going to get CRUSHED by income taxes. That's because in the eyes of the gubmint, you are both an employer and an employee. As a self-employed person, you pay the taxes for both roles. You pay as an employer and you pay as an employee, and yes, that shit adds up.

Ouch.

To help alleviate this double-dipping by Uncle Sam, you'll probably end up incorporating. If you do, consider keeping it simple. Something like Your Name LLC works fine.

You'll then have to keep separate bank accounts. No more co-mingling funds. When you get paid as a writer, it's your company getting paid, not you.

Depending on the advice your accountant gives you, you might end up assigning yourself a salary. You might have to file special forms. In my state, you have to file quarterly Something or Other documents that I haven't quite wrapped my head around yet, paperwork presumably designed so that the state can be sure you don't accidentally get a nickel without them knowing about it.

You'll have a new tax ID number, and this and that and on and on.

Oh, and sometimes you'll do work and payment will never arrive, so you'll end up having to be a collection agency, too, making calls and sending notes and crossing your fingers hoping that you're not going to get screwed over after having spent two days writing about whatever oddball thing you were hired to write about.

No, this is not what you signed up for. It's sure as hell not what I signed up for.

And yet here I am, essentially operating what amounts to a one-man consulting business and dealing with all the pain-in-the-assedness that comes with it, wondering when I'm going to forget to cross a T that ends up biting me in the ass five years down the road.

This would all be much nicer with a business manager.

Guess I just need to write the next Fifty Shades or something and maybe I can afford to hire one.