With the release of October horror films like Annabelle, and Oscar contenders like Gone Girl, it’s clear that the Summer movie season has officially ended. For this article, I’m going to post the reviews I did on Facebook for the summer movies I was fortunate enough to see in the theater. Generally, these reviews are quick and (hopefully) entertaining while giving you some insight into who I am, my passion for film, and how effective I felt these movies were without spoiling them. I should have my quick reviews for Annabelle and Gone Girl up by the end of next week, if not earlier. Before that though, let’s talk about this years Summer movies.
Sir Blindy’s Quick Reviews: Summer Movie Catch-Up
I’m in between quarters at school, so now I get to talk about the short list of movies I got to watch these last few months! After the initial trailer, and knowing that it was directed by Gareth Edwards, I couldn’t wait for Godzilla. Gareth Edwards directed this daring low budget indie flick called Monsters a few years ago that I absolutely adore. The movie puts the focus on it’s characters even though chunks of Earth have been populated by aliens, and Edwards sacrifices easy CGI action sequences for dialogue-driven moments between the two leads. So, when I found out he was taking on Godzilla, I hoped he would approach the material in a similar way, and after seeing the movie I really felt like he tried.
I don’t know if it was major production studio involvement or a desire to give ‘Zilla fans exactly what they wanted; the characters mostly felt flat. I don’t want to sound offensive, but if the lead for the majority of your movie is going to be a battle-hardened military-type, it might be worth the extra time spent defining that character before their military experience. I mean, Paul Verhoeven spent nearly an hour building up his characters in Starship Troopers before they joined the Federation. It’s not that they’re uninteresting, it’s just that they’re emotions are kept so reserved that it’s difficult to establish a significant connection with the audience. By far the most established character in the movie was Joe (Bryan Cranston). His character had motivation, emotion, and a purpose. It’s a common complaint and it’s populated nearly all the reviews for the movie, but this flick could have used a lot more Cranston. I mean, he’s established himself as one of the best actors of our generation, take advantage of that! It’s worth noting though that he does get the best dialogue scenes in the movie though, so that’s good.
Wow this review’s long, I missed doing this guys. Now for the part that made everyone go see the movie (except me); them monsters. Here it is, Edwards handled the action scenes masterfully. He sprinkled bits and pieces in throughout the entire movie, but he saved the full-on showdown for the third act, the way it ought to be done. The building anticipation for the fight between Godzilla and MUTO was palpable. I loved the fact that Edwards didn’t get over-indulgent with his big budget. He knew that this was an event movie, and he utilized that anticipation to build tension. If Edwards did anything perfectly in this movie, it was his direction of the action. He has a genuine skill at using minimal light sources to increase the terror of having to run, fight or witness one of these massive creatures. THE HALO JUMP SCENE! If there is any reason to watch this movie, it’s to watch that scene play out. The visuals were absolutely stunning, and I got many a goosepimple when I noticed they kept György Ligeti’s “Requiem” as the music for the scene. It’s horrifying and beautiful. So, while the characters in general fall pretty flat with the exception of Cranston, the sparingly used and creative “monster moments” were beyond spectacular and well worth the watch. Godzilla feels as massive as he should feel, and it takes away that nasty taste left by the 1998 Godzilla.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
I adore the good X-Men movies. For me, that includes X-Men, X-Men United, X-Men First Class, and now X-Men Days of Future Past has easily jumped past X2 as my favorite in the franchise. Wow, this movie was everything I want in an X-Men film. It has heart, action, strong characters, and one of the best plots I’ve ever seen in the superhero genre. In the movie, we’re introduced to a future that is bleak and terrifying, especially if you’re a mutant. Sentinels are programmed to seek out and kill mutants, and the sentinels are just about unkillable. Wolverine is asked by a partnered up Professor X and Magneto to go back in time to the 70s to stop Mystique from killing the creator of the sentinels that ultimately ended up having the sentinel program pushed forward by the government. Then, as needs to happen in all time travel movies, it’s not as easy as all that.
I can’t properly explain how much I love this movie. I keep claiming that it’s my second favorite comic book movie ever made behind The Dark Knight, and if you know about my passion for Batman, that should give you an idea of how much I loved X-Men: Days of Future Past. The performances were all pitch perfect, especially when it comes to James McAvoy as the young Prof. X. He is struggling, broken and aimless when Wolverine finds him in the past, and watching that character who we know and remember to be the strong glue that holds everything together in such a weak and vulnerable position is heart-breaking. A one point in the film, McAvoy has a brief conversation with Patrick Stewart (old Prof. X) that literally made me shed a tear. That’s right, I cried during a summer comic book movie. But, I promise you that if you feel nothing during this movie then you have no soul.
It’s worth noting that the action scenes are few and far between in this movie. It’s dialogue and character driven, and I adored that. These characters are strong, deep, and complex and I have seen it happen over and over again where comic book movies sacrifice rich characters for nonstop action (ahem Man of Steel). So, it was nice to sit back and just watch these terrific actors deliver perfectly written dialogue in between the few masterfully done action sequences. Of course, since everyone else is talking about it; Quicksilver. There is a scene in this movie involving Quicksilver that has gone on to have a life of it’s own. It’s often cited as the single greatest scene in the movie, and I’d agree if I didn’t love the scene where Mystique interrupts a boardroom meeting so much. That Quicksilver scene absolutely showed me that a movie about The Flash can be done well, so long as DC doesn’t let WB ruin the character by making him dark and gritty. So, I loved loved LOVED this movie, best of the year so far maybe for me. Definitely the best film of the summer so far. Superb acting with a strong script and a smart narrative. Everyone should see it, and luckily a lot of people have. I’m so glad the X-Men franchise is back on track.
While taking a break between homework assignments, I’ll keep catching up on this backlog of movies I need to talk about. First, a story. Natalie and I try to go to the movies as often as we can because A. It’s important that we get to spend time together without having to worry about everything else for a while, and B. It’s important for me as a prospective future employee in the film industry to take in as much content as possible. I had an idea that essentially gets us two dates a month, and keeps it kind of mysterious, and I recommend you couples out there try this out because it’s turned out to be really interesting. At the beginning of the month, I’ll pick a movie that I want to see. We go to the theater, I buy the tickets WHILE she buys the popcorn and snacks. The kicker is, she has no idea what movie we’re seeing until it starts playing on the screen, and we reverse this later in the month when she gets to pick the movie. The goal is to expose yourself to something you otherwise wouldn’t have if you were the one making the decision.
Now, I told you all about our little date plan for one reason. I created all of that just so I could see Snowpiercer. Don’t tell Natalie. Luckily it worked out, because we both adored the movie. Snowpiercer is at it’s most basic level, about a group at the back of a train making their way to the front of the train. All that’s left of humanity has been put on this massive train, the rich live up front, and the poor live in the back. They fight their way through each boxcar, all of which have notable and memorable qualities. That’s one thing worth noting, this film is extremely stylized and has a very Asian narrative structure that might not appeal to some people. The director Bong Joon-Ho directed one of my favorite monster films of this generation, The Host, and hearing that he was doing an English film is initially what sparked my interest in Snowpiercer. It’s all things emotional, violent, campy, thought-provoking, action-packed, and funny. If this movie has a flaw it’s that some of the ideas it’s trying to explore may have been a bit too big for the narrative to shoulder. What it has to say about class, religion, and humanity is relatively clear and you get what they’re going for, but sometimes it can get muddy because there is so much happening at once.
That’s minor nit-picking though for a film that certainly deserved more attention. Chris Evans (Captain America) gives easily his most emotionally raw and profound performance, especially in a monologue toward the end of the film where you finally learn about who he was before he became the leader of a rebellion. There are loads of other amazing performances in it as well, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Fantastic movie, watch it by whatever means possible, and if you keep an open mind, you might just learn something about yourself.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
I’ve been binge-watching new movies this whole break from school and forgetting to catch up on my reviews for the movies I’ve already seen. I just saw Annabelle and I want to get that review over and done with as soon as possible, so let’s burn through some of these. I remember when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was in the deep stages of it’s marketing campaign, and how hesitant I felt about Hollywood trying to revitalize a franchise that seemed dead and buried. I adore the original Planet of the Apes because like any good sci-fi film, it has something to say about humanity and a message that goes deeper than the surface level, and I didn’t want to see what was once a solid franchise get ruined again (thanks Tim Burton). Despite the early trailers having an overabundance of James Franco, the later trailers and TV spots seemed to be more heavily focused on the apes, and that snagged my interest. The apes have always been the most interesting element to the franchise, it’s where the narrative has always been at its strongest, and I felt that if ever they opted to revisit the material, a heavier focus on the ape dynamic would be the logical approach.
So I saw Rise, and I adored it.So much so that I talked it up to some friends, and saw it again with them. James Franco was whatever, and the human characters were generally bland and uninteresting. But, that didn’t matter because Andy Serkis as Caesar the ape stole the show. For a performance that was virtually silent except for a few breathtakingly perfect moments, the completely CGI Caesar was one of the most compelling, complex, emotional, and tragic characters I can recall seeing in a film in 2011. To this day, when I think about him screaming “No!” I still get goosebumps, and that’s SO silly because it’s a fake talking ape, but it was enthralling. So, three years later I start hearing about Dawn, and not only that, it’s directed by Matt Reeves now! Matt Reeves has been on my radar since Cloverfield, and I have to imagine that at some point he will be a generally well-known name. I was excited, and the first teaser in which it slowly zooms out on Caesar and his army ferociously waiting before Caesar gives them the sign to attack had me giddy. Then, I saw the movie, and it was pretty good.
From a technical standpoint, the film was flawless. The CGI apes were astonishing, I’m pretty sure that orangutan was just real, and the cinematography was gorgeous. But, I had issues with the story and how generic it all felt. I felt like I could call every beat before it happened, and the one true shock when Koba crosses a line was stolen from me because they showed it in the trailer. It just felt like they took the basic framework for the simplest way to tell a story, and didn’t evolve it beyond that point. Now, that isn’t to say the movie is terrible, because it’s far from it. That basic framework is a solid one to hang your story on, despite the fact that it will come off as a little less original as a result. I think the social commentary was strong, which is important in the genre. The performances were all great, especially Andy Serkis again, who FINALLY gets top billing when the credits roll. It wasn’t overly action packed, which I appreciated because it took time to build the characters. The film was effective, and though the story was basic, there’s no denying that it was entertaining. The character of Caesar continues to be one of the most compelling characters in recent film history, and I’m excited to see where the franchise goes from here because now it’s pumping blood again and people are interested.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
So, after seeing the thought-provoking X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the dark and gritty Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I was feeling a bit worn down by “serious” summer movies, then in strolls Guardians of the Galaxy. Now I get to go into a bit of background film snobbery business with Guardians. There’s no denying that Marvel has been knocking it out of the park (a baseball reference! My Dad would be proud) with their Phase 2 films. Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Captain America 2 were all entertaining and built on Marvel’s cinematic universe expertly. In regard to Guardians, I had no interest in seeing it solely because it was a Marvel film. In my opinion, if the studio making the film is highly regarded, that shouldn’t automatically mean the film will then be a masterpiece, even if that company is Marvel. What truly sold me on the film was it’s director, James Gunn.
I’ve been a fan of Gunn’s work since I first saw the Troma film Tromeo & Juliet, which he wrote the screenplay for. If you don’t know anything about Troma Entertainment, essentially they’re known for making Z-grade indie horror schlock films, all of which are simply fantastic. The most well known series in the Troma library is probably The Toxic Avenger, which I highly recommend to anyone who loves their movies with a pinch of farce. James Gunn then went on to direct the gross-out, horror, comedy film Slither in ’06, which the gore fan in me adored. Then, in ’10 he directed maybe one of my favorite indie flicks, Super starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. Super is a brilliant black comedy that flips the superhero genre upside down, and the result is riveting. It tries to show what would happen in the real world if someone decided to become a comic book-like hero, much like Kick Ass, but without giving up on that theme halfway through the movie like Kick Ass did. Even though Super was a box office flop, Marvel seemed to notice something in Gunn’s direction and satirical view on the world that would work for one of their properties. So, it was in finding out that he was attached as the director for Guardians of the Galaxy that really got me excited about the film. Then Nat and I saw the film as my surprise movie for her, and the result was one of the most fun, entertaining, and immersive experiences I’ve had at the theaters since I can’t remember when.
The feeling reminded me of the first time I saw Jurassic Park, or Star Wars as a kid, and for two hours I truly forgot about all my stresses and frustrations. Guardians tells the story of a group of criminals coming together to stop a comically generic villain from destroying the universe. What makes Guardians so effective is it’s tone, pacing, and character development. You perfectly understand and sometimes relate to each member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which is crucial and generally gets ignored in these big budget action flicks. The film never takes itself too seriously, despite having a few emotional scenes that never feel corny or ham-fisted. From both a narrative and technical standpoint, Guardians is nearly flawless, and audiences have reacted very positively to the film, making it the top grossing film of the year thus far. It’s not just a movie that works for adults, but finally a comic book related movie was released that children can enjoy as well, and isn’t that who this genre should appeal to in the first place? As much as I love The Dark Knight, the effects of it can still be felt in these dark and gritty takes on what should otherwise be bright and colorful comic book heroes like Superman and Spider-man. The Avengers was the first step back toward the “fun” comic book film, and Guardians is, in my opinion, that idea perfected. I can’t recall the last time I laughed as much during a film. Maybe Scott Pilgrim or Hot Fuzz. I don’t have very many negatives to bring up for Guardians. Sure, the villain is notably generic and has no characterization at all, but I feel that it works within the tone of the film. It’s almost ironic in a way, and that feels reminiscent of Gunn’s specific style. If you’ve somehow avoided Guardians of the Galaxy, do yourself a favor and check it out, because it’s everything a summer action film should be, and more.