Stop-motion has been around since nearly the invention of cinema itself, the first usage of the animation technique employed in the 1897 film The Humpty Dumpty Circus. The art of physically manipulating objects, photographing them through a series of tiny incremental changes as a means to express movement, has become incredibly sophisticated in the last century and one Portland-based animation studio can take credit for consistently pushing the medium to new extremes: Laika. Read More
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
In 1988, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards attended the Winter Olympics as the sole representative of the Great Britain ski jumping team. Facing active discouragement from his nation’s Olympic committee, Edwards was forced to self-fund the journey that led him to the Calgary-held Olympics, mounting his campaign on sheer determination and grit rather than skill or, you know, practice. His name became synonymous with perseverance, his bumbling visage a representation of that sportsman mantra of being the best that you can be. Read More
Were one to take both Pan and Oz: The Great and Powerful as case studies of skillful directors attempting to adapt iconic source material, they would be forced to reason that this just ain’t a venture worth taking. The same exact sentiment can be said of Pan the film. Joe Wright (Hanna, Pride and Prejudice), working from a Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift) script, has drained the prestige from his presence in attempting to tell a for-all-ages tale of the flying boy with a sentient shadow who never ages. Rather, he delivers a schizophrenic, incredibly frustrating family-friendly adventure with staggering highs and lows. Had Pan just been bad – rather than offering the odd moments of true clarity and borderline brilliance – the inevitable disappointment wouldn’t sting quite as much. As it, it’s a monstrous failure with absolutely out-of-place moments of undeniable inspiration. Read More
Chappie star Yolandi Vizzer said of the “Zef” movement that defines Cape Town rave-rap group Die Antwoord, “It’s associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy, you’re sexy, you’ve got style.” Her home-on-the-Afrikaans-range expressionist sentiments on Zef appropriately sum up Chappie, a mouthy sci-fi lark that manages to exist in the schizophrenic space between philosophy class and the thug lyfe. Narcotic in design, Chappie has the ability to be thoughtful, sardonic, batty, stupid, far-fetched, irreverent, intoxicated and absurd in the same sentence. To get a feel for what’s in store, imagine Chappie grabbing his robot junk, slouching like a gangster and wiping at his nonexistent nose before rapping on the heady notions of psychological impermanence and the potential of conscious transference. Those of lesser imaginative are damned to misunderstand the intent in such a film, a “how did this even get made” kind of product whose deranged sensibilities are delirious by design, but that’s their problem. In the “in” circles, they pity such handicapped imaginations. So hollers the hip-hopper handbook, haters gonna hate.
Much like Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer worked in tandem on Interstellar – Nolan gave Zimmer “feelings and themes” he wanted the film to communicate without ever revealing to Zimmer the genre of Interstellar. Zimmer then cooked up the backbone of a score and his work went on to influence Nolan’s developing script, etc. etc. – Chappie and Die Antwoord are intrinsically unified. They’re brothers from another mother. Droogs of the same breed. To drawn a line in the sand between the perfectly ironic poppiness of Die Antwoord’s counter-culture movement and the Hollywood blockbuster construct of Chappie is a hopeless exercise that I don’t seek to understand. Basing estimations of Chappie on existing models and traditions of big-budget (Chappie‘s was apparently 50 million) filmmaking is impossible since those models and traditions have been promptly, purposefully rocketed into space like they’re Ellen Ripley at the tail end of Alien. Neill Blomkamp‘s screenplay for Chappie talks about evolution and, ironically, it sails so much in the face of traditional movie-making models that it in itself is a kind of a quasi-evolution of the movie-making game. It’s so f*cking meta.
The Antwoord duo preserves their stage names in Chappie because why not? Ninja (played by Ninja) sports his customary military mullet – a hairstyle that came to him in a dream – and slurs his way through chunky Afrikaan slang not too far off from the head-scratching lexicon of Clockwork Orange or, more recently, Attack the Block. Expect a BuzzFeed article titled “What the What Do These 21 Chappie Phrases Mean?” Female-half Yolandi rocks the same violently pink “Who Wants Tits?” belly shirt she does in Antwoord’s deliciously off-color “Baby’s On Fire” music video. A later wardrobe change has her sporting a “CHAPPiE” crop top. Even robo-Chappie himself has got a not-so-subtly spraypainted “ZEF” tramp stamp. Blomkamp’s movie self-promotes both itself and Die Antwoord like a hungry hip-hop artist. It’s so f*cking metal.
We’ve rapped about Chappie as counter culture in film form but in the same vein, it’s also very much Blomkamp’s attempt to define a foreign zeitgeist in a very specific place and time. His efforts to justify, or rather rationalize, South African’s prominent underground civilization to the world appears lost on many and I would like to assume that that’s also part of the point. Not everyone’s going to get it but no worries here. Good riddance. In that line of thinking, Chappie is an intentional affront to good taste. Where we expect our hero robot to zag, he zigs. We expect him to mature out of a pubescent state but he’s too busy twisting up zig-zags. What Mad Max did for dystopian MCs, Chappie does for punk-samurai robots. What Star Wars achieved for flowy robes, Chappie pulls off for in-your-face neon. If you boiled down the guttural madness of the Matrix Reloaded rave scene, dosed it with some golden-toothed slang and outfitted its doltishness with automatic weapons, you’d have something resembling Chappie. “Radical” attempts to describes it but I think only “Zef” can properly sum it up.
But what the hell is Chappie about, Matt? Well anyone who’s heard the electronic mumblings of “I am Chappie” through their radio waves know that Blomkamp’s third features a robot. Anyone who’s seen a Chappie poster knows that said robot sports bling bling. Peeps who be trolling the trailers are probz aware that Hugh Jackman‘s skull sprouted a maybe-mullet for the film and he’s basically the heavy here, though very much not in the way you might at first have thunk. What you don’t know is that Chappie is not in the least bit the film you expect it to be. Especially if you’ve tapped into the overwhelming negative reception of the film. Chappie is way more weird, way more bonkers, way more gaga than you would anticipate of a movie with this kind of budget and backing. Were Chappie to meet ET, he’d ask him to politely bite the curb. If he paired up with Mac, he’d put his deformed visage gently “to sleep.” If you thought Matt Damon in a mech suit was wackadoo, wait until you get a load of Chappie. He’s so f*cking manic.
And that’s really what it comes down to, Chappie as a character is worth the price of admission alone. With Sharlto Copley voicing the character, he’s got more grit to him than a offroader’s fender and is far from the innocent robot the promotional material paints him as. Sure, he initially wields paintbrushes instead of PPKs but his jive-talking mannerisms arrive with a limited learning curve and soon enough he’s parroting the gangbangin’ verbiage of his too-so-Kosher mommy and daddy. Comedy cometh.
In an age that is so obnoxiously focused on franchise world-building, Blomkamp excels in the thematically exacting specificity of his future-set pasquinades. He’s clearly having fun but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have an agenda. In District 9, we got a taste for an “inventive” history of South Africa in Blomkamp’s straight-faced satirical portrait of refuges. Camps thick with burned trash and thin on food rubbed up against legal boundaries blurred by racist governmental ordinances. Blomkamp recently ousted himself for “f*cking up Elysium” though I’m not willing to dismiss that work just yet as it provided one of the more provocative pictures of the institutional evils of bureaucracy. And (did I mention??) had Matt Damon in a mech-suit. Chappie gets to ideas of bankrupt corporate morality and existential crises that also stops to ask how we can live with the knowledge that we will die? I’m…intrigued? It also features a kind of ED-209, appropriately named the Moose, stomping on a character and pulling him gorily in half. It’s about something until it’s not. It’s self-involved and batshit until it’s genuinely provocative. It’s that improbably rare, inimitable kinda “WTF was that?!” movie.
Look, I’m not here to convince you that you’re going to like Chappie because in earnest, this is not a movie with the masses in mind. It’s the kind of “hey, welcome to the party” film that attempts to ask big questions but winds up with concepts infinitely more silly – a la how many Playstation 4s does it take to house a person’s consciousness – but that doesn’t derail the intrigue that exists there in the first place. At least not for me. We cannot dismiss the stoner without at least hearing him out. Sometimes, he has a hell of a point. Occasional narrative poverty gives way to a much more important feeling of style, expressionism and innovation – the “gold and shit” – in what is most assuredly a one-of-a-kind, totally berserk robot gangster misadventure for the anals of f*cking history. On the coolness/acclaim axis, Chappie‘s lightning in a bottle existence gangsta leans towards being impenetrably hip and so be it. My mom doesn’t understand hip hop and that’s ok with me. I don’t bother trying to convince her because that’s missing the point. If you’re not in on the whole shebang, that’s your problem.
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.
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.
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.
I enjoyed The Wolverine, even though I had no delusions that it was a great movie, but now it looks like it will be the middle child of a trilogy of Wolverine movies. James Mangold, director of The Wolverine and 3:10 to Yuma, will return to direct Hugh Jackman for his eighth, yes eighth, run as the eponymous Wolverine. This news comes as a bit of a surprise since The Wolverine saw lackluster box office return and mild reaction from fans and critics.
Although little details have yet emerged as to where this tale will fall within the X-Men timeline, especially since this release will fall after X-Men: Days of Future Past, old Wolfy boy seems like he won’t ever die. Now Oscar nominated and a massive international superstar, Jackman seems to really be limiting his options continuing down the X-Men route. Unless you finally get Darren Aronofsky onboard and an R-rating, the propects of yet another Wolverine movie seem limited by what we’ve already seen.
Fox’s executive decisions up to this point suggest that so long as Jackman is willing, they’ll throw a Wolverine role at him every other year until he dies. Jackman though seems headstrong to continue his superhero path and has recently made comments suggesting that he would love to join up with the Avengers at some point. Slow down Jackman, I think eight superhero movies might be enough for one man.
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
James McAvoy as Young Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
Peter Dinklage as Boliver Trask
Michael Fassbender as Young Magneto
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.