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Out in Theaters: ‘LOGAN’

The superhero genre has (deservingly) caught a lot of flack over the years for its Saturday Morning Cartoons rendition of tentpole blockbuster cinema. The Marvel brand in particular was privy to the lather, rinse, repeat template, providing a steady stable of colorful smart asses who smash and bash and save the world, returning to the status quo (or shwarma) when all is said and done to await their next universe saving event. Then along came Deadpool. Say what you will the R-rated superhero flick – like for instance that it falls in line with many of the same familiar tropes it purports to mock – but the gleefully violent and “adult”-oriented box office smash opened the flood gates for more of its R-rated ilk, showing studios through the ever influential power of green (not Green Lantern mind you), that audiences were more than receptive to “mature” content in their superhero films. In fact, they were damn near starving for it.  Read More

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Talking with Jeremy Saulnier of ‘GREEN ROOM’

Jeremy Saulnier emerged from the shadows last year with his not-quite-cult independent smash Blue Ruin. About a man fatally ill prepared to strike justice on the man responsible for his parent’s slaying, Saulnier managed an original voice in a familiar setting. With this year’s Green Room, he’s managed to strike the sweet spot once more. An uncompromisingly violent tale of a hapless punk band (played by Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Callum Turner and Mark Webber) who come head to head with a Neo Nazi club owner (an intimidating as hell Patrick Stewart) is shrouded in viscus and plays like a violent assault to the senses. Visceral and mean, Saulnier has sharpened his edge as a filmmaker to craft a siege film set in a seedy underbelly society that’s absolutely boiling with tension. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘GREEN ROOM’

Hot from the critical heralding of Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier returns to the world of white trash and movies with colors in their title with Green Room. An ultraviolet fantasy of viscus and vengeance, Green Room is as unapologetic as a Misfits album, as dead-serious as a KKK rally and as boastfully savage as a scalping. Characters find themselves torn to kibble by attack dogs, slashed to crimson ropes by box cutters and blasted in the face at point blank range with shotguns. Read More

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DVD Review: MATCH

Synopsis: “A successful Manhattan ballet instructor and former dancer must confront his past when two fans with mysterious motives display some fancy footwork in the compelling drama Match. Steve Belber’s film, based on his Tony-nominated play, stars Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard who each give captivating performances in this witty, emotionally gripping adaptation of the play. Stewart stars as Tobi, an eccentric, pot-smoking Manhattan ballet instructor whose quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of a young couple from Seattle. They are presumably there to interview Tobi about his colorful life as a dancer in the 1960s. But as Tobi spins salacious tales from his early days, an ulterior motive for the couple’s visit emerges, forcing the trio to confront a secret that may connect them all.” Read More

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Out in Theaters: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

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The X-Men franchise has always confronted big themes: tolerance, shame, homosexuality, even genocide. At its greatest hours, the series has relied on ideas of deontological ethics and ideologies of self-worth winning over flashy spectacle – although the vast display of superpowers were always welcome icing on the cake. Even the much derided Last Stand shoulders a message of coming together to defeat a greater enemy – about differences paling under the looming shadow of fascism – but that’s hardly something new to a series that juggles laser sight in with race extermination. Days of Future Past takes its place in the crossroads between bold ideas and blockbuster pageantry and though maybe it’s not the most outright fun X-Men film to date (that honor goes to First Class), it might be the most important.

Days of Future Past starts with a bang. A dazzling cold open sees a new pack of mutants coming to head with the iconic sentinels – giant mutant-killing robots hunting down the last of the surviving supers – and sets the table for the stunning special effects goodies in store. With the sentinels knocking on their door and no international borders or mutant powers strong enough to stop them, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and his tattered band of X-Men devise a plan to right the events of the past. Harnessing her ability to travel through stuff, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends a battle-weary Wolverine back in time to the 1970s iterations of the characters that we met in First Class.

Charged with stopping the assassination of Boliver Trask, the man responsible for the sentinel project and who’s death was the catalyst for its expansion, Wolverine must get the band back together to change the events of the future and prevent the sentinels from ever getting the green light.

If X-Men was about coming out of the closet, X2 about unity, X3 about fear mongering, and First Class about brotherhood, X:Men Days of Future Past is all about course correction. Can we change the path we’ve been set on? Are people fundamentally good or evil, or does the gray area in between win out every time?

With much more of a centerpiece role than before, the story is essentially a battle for Raven/Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) soul. Not saddled with her ho-hum lines from Matthew Vaughn‘s First Class script and seemingly more dedicated to this all blue role, Lawrence provides depth to a character that’s always been cloaked in mystery, showing off her penchant for ambiguity under the gun. In a movie filled with intriguingly unstable character conviction, hers is the most shaky.

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Considering that the characters in the story rarely conform to absolutes, there’s something undefined about who the villain actually is. Surely some might think Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) is the one to single out – and Tywin Lannister won’t forget you did – but he’s really just a scared little man doing the best he sees fit to protect his race against an invading species. If you hold a mirror to Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Trask is but a counterpart, his human alter-ego using full measures to fight the emending species war between homo-sapiens and homo-superior.

If there’s really one enemy in the film, it’s fear. Fear leads us to fight, to kill, to close down borders and look uneasily on our differences. It’s fear that governs the deeds of the villains here, that pollutes their senses and poisons their potential.

As has always been, Professor X champions compassion and acceptance, believing good deeds can cause immutable ripples through time, while Magneto sees the world in two colors: black and white; mutant and human; us versus them. In the midst of the film, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen share a touching moment that really puts the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender timeline in perspective. “I wish we had spent less time on different sides,” McKellan’s weathered Magneto admits. Stewart just dips his head and you know he feels the same way. In the end, they’re just two outcasts who don’t want to live in fear.

Social commentary is a mainstay of the X-Men franchise and, when done right, is what makes the series more than just a popcorn cruncher. All the issues of the past installments are present and expanded upon in thoughtful brushstrokes now with Singer behind the helm again. Holocaust allusions ripple through the narrative as much as ever before, now joined to themes of drug abuse, free will and destiny. With so many ideas and timelines floating around, the narrative could have easily gotten fuzzy, or worse yet, pretentious but Singer manages to keep the high-minded ideas in check with brilliant displays of blockbuster showmanship.

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A scene introducing Quicksilver (Evan Peters), aside from alluding to the fact that he’s probably Magneto’s offspring, provides one of the most innovative set pieces since bullet time and still manages to be stuffed with laughs. It was Singer’s ability to mix comedy in  with superheroes and social issues that put X-Men on the map in the first place – and for all intents and purposes, proved that a superhero movie could be excellent – so it’s no surprise that he’s done it here again. 14 years later though, he’s even better at his craft.

For the many Last Stand haters out there, Singer’s own course correction will be much appreciated. With the events of Days of Future Past, he’s scrubbed away the mistakes of Brett Ratner – like rot from an otherwise living patient – and left only the portions that mattered most: Wolverine’s emotional anchor of pain and regret. He’s an evolving character, one we’ve now seen in seven films, and unlike anything else in movie franchise history.

Now present in not one, but two timelines, the question remains: how many more does Hugh Jackman have in him? Although he’s a tremendous dramatic actor (just look to Prisoners for proof of that), so long as the future installments are as great as this, I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing him ride this train until retirement. Especially alongside a cast this bed-wettingly good.

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X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Gets First Trailer

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X-Men: Days of Future Past
is not only one of the most anticipated superhero movies in the foreseeable future, it’s also an experiment in what’s to come for world building cinematic universes. Marvel had hopes that The Avengers would soar financially but even they failed to see just how successful their franchise would become. After essentially using their standalone films to promote an eventual team-up movie, interest in seeing separate films eventually come together is a market essentially untapped. Since the one-piece-at-a-time tactic has not been the explicit approach for Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer and Fox Studios are living in a bit of a Petri dish for all to see if their approach to building a cinematic universe on the fly is a box-office success or a flop. If this first trailer, and the internet’s stunned reaction, is any indication, I’d say we’re looking at a winner.

Although this first look is notably light on action set pieces, it properly outlines the very basics of the plot – a time traveling Wolverine must warn 1970s versions of Magneto and Professor X of a coming disaster involving mutant slaying robots. But instead of selling us on the spectacle, it mostly functioning on an emotional, nostalgic level. Stirring our nerdy desire to see the characters from the past six X-Men films share the screen, Days of Future Past looks to fulfill that promise of culmination, or, at the very least, suggest that we have lift off. 

One narrative issue that the trailer suggests is that characters of the future and the past may not share many physical scenes. At least, that appears to be the case for the time being. If that approach is doubled in the film, with each set of characters condoned off into their own “present,” thusly not interacting together as a whole X-Men collective, then the promise of team-ups could come off as deceptive and insincere.

The more likely scenario is that Fox and its constituents are not going to blow that revelatory reunion moment on this first run of a trailer. If anything, it’s a trial run to gauge reaction to the concept. But if the film does end up jumping between narratives of past and present, us audience members might not be getting quite what we want. While keeping the stories largely separate could just work, it does set up a potentially disjointed narrative while also squandering the excitement of having all these actors share the same screen. If Wolverine proves to be the only connective tissue between the two subsets of X-folk, the whole trend towards character acceleration – the propulsion towards more, more, more – may prove to be too little, too late. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Shaun Ashmore, Omar Sy and Evan Peters. It hits theaters on May 23, 2014.

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New X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Images Promise Lots of Characters

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New images for Bryan Singer‘s X-Men: Days of Future Past have hit the interwebs in anticipation of the films first trailer, ramping up anticipation from the uproariously popular tease in the Wolverine post-credits. Plot holes be damned, the film will include a time travel story, in order to bring together the bulk of the franchises hero’s, including Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Ian McKellen (Magneto), James McAvoy (Professor X), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), newcomer Peter Dinklage, who will play villain Bolivar Trask, and many, many more.

Jamming together the old cast of the original X-Men trilogy with the new blood of the critical hit X-Men: First Class, Fox Studios are attempting an Avengers-style scheme of their own. While there’s certainly a lot on the platter, if this gambit works, they stand to make buckets upon buckets of money. While the last three X-Men outings have been a bit of a financial disappointment, it’s easy to say that the future of the franchise rests on the success of Days of Future Past. If it manages to win back old fans while tapping into a new audience, superhero movie popularity could just be starting.

 


Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto


Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique

Patrick Stewart as Old Charles Xavier and director Bryan Singer


Ellen Page as Kitty Pride/Shadowcat and Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake/Iceman

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James McAvoy as Young Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto

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Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

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Peter Dinklage as Boliver Trask

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Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto

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Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto and James McAvoy as Charles Xavier

X-Men: Days of Future Past is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page, Anna Paquin, Shaun Ashmore, Omar Sy and Evan Peters. It hits theaters on May 23, 2014.