Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse is Exciting and Fun

    I like X-Men Apocalypse. It's an exciting movie with an entertaining plot, great action scenes and it explores several interesting mutant characters.  It's a bit of a reboot from its previous existence in 20th Century Fox studios.  But it follows the previous X-Men, who started in the 1960s with X-Men:  First Class and then in the 1970s with Days of Future Past, into the 1980s.  We are re-introduced to younger versions of the X-Men including Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler and holdovers such as Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver plus about five other characters I have forgotten. Plenty of interesting mutants for fans who are gluttons for superheros. 

    The Quicksilver character was brilliantly played by Aaron Evans.  The young superheroes should act like punks sometimes, and he does that.  He's talented, funny and definitely has his own personality.  One thing that bothers me, though, is how Quicksilver can be a young guy in the 1970s and 1980's, and yet is also a young guy in the Avengers movie which takes place in about 2016.  These movies are not helped by taking such giant liberties with the characters.  

Quicksilver is a surprising hit of the movie, upstaging some of his more well-known friends.  

       Similarly, Nightcrawler (Cody Smit-McPhee) is a very interesting character with the ability to teleport himself and his friends.  His flaws are that he is very under-confident and overly devout in his religion, which leads to some nice comic moments. In short, Nightcrawler rocks.    

     Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, remains a fascinating character whose life is marred by evil tragedies.  I think the previous director wanted him to be like James Bond.  Meanwhile, Xavier is not nearly as inspirational, played kind of flatly by James McAvoy.   Magneto is basically a good character but one who is pulled by tragedy to embrace evil.  Fassbender is a very good actor, but we have seen this theme only about six other times in the X-Men movies and it is getting to be stale.  Time to move on.  To some extent this is accomplished by having a new bad guy for this movie.

    The bad guy is named Apocalypse, and he is really really bad. He does a decent Hannibal Lecter voice in addition to having all sorts of cool powers.  We learn that he had been active in ancient Egypt, but like the Mummy was entombed for a few thousand years, and then awakens to menace the world again. Apocalypse believes he is the answer to humanity's misplaced values (for example, their tendency to create nuclear weapons--tsk, tsk--instead of worshipping his godlike self).  But at his core, Apocalypse is kind of a horse's ass.  His ability to attract other mutants to support him perhaps could have been better developed, since he is really so creepy that we can scarcely imagine that a misguided good guy is actually going to work for him.  

Can you imagine an ancient godlike Pharaoh coming back to life to oppress the world?  Uh, maybe so.

Apocalypse gets great helpers, like Magneto and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).   Psylocke is into electrified whips and chains and is just mean.  

    Wolverine is in the movie, just so that they could add Hugh Jackman in the cast.   He doesn't add much to the plot.  He is just thrown in and then leaves, sort of like Stan Lee's cameo but with more violence.   This was a major blemish on the movie.  

     The plot is just average with too much reliance on stale themes, but good acting and directing along with exciting action sequences lead to a very enjoyable film.   


Sunday, May 8, 2016

When Marnie Was There --Review by the Village Elliot

I took my Mother to the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs for a special shoing of "When Marnie Was There, " which they say is the last great cartoon from this generation of Studio Ghibli, which is the most famous creator of Anime movies in Japan. It is one of the most fantastic movies I have ever seen, never mind that it is a cartoon. In America, you could absolutely not make a movie like this. How can you have a movie with no sex, no romance, no violence, no guns, and no jokes and expect people to watch? It just can not happen. But Ghibli made an incredible movie. It is first of all unbelievably beautifully constructed with scenery from Japan that makes me long to return to that beautiful country. In some ways the cartoon is actually even more real than live film. The colors are brilliant and glorious, and the art is sensitive and gorgeous. In some ways, I think Japanese people like to see themselves as having some closer resemblance to European people, while nevetheless maintaining their cultural identity, and this comes into play in this movie both directly as well as indirectly as a form of artistic expression. "When Marnie was There" tells the story of an adolescent Japanese girl named Anna who is sent to the countryside to regain her health, and she meets a beautiful young European girl named Marnie, a few years older than herself, who lives in a mansion that appears to be abandoned at times. Marnie is from a wealthy family and is rich, outgoing and beautiful, all the things that Anna is not. Anna is so impressed by Marnie that Anna begins to doubt whether she even can be real. Is Marnie simply a figment of her imagination? It's partly a story of coming of age, but it is also an intricate Mystery movie, almost like the Twilight Zone in some respects. I will confess that I am a big softie and often cry at movies including Kung Fu Panda and Despicable me. I'm afraid the Little Art Theater may have suffered water damage for this engagement, as I was not the only one in tears.

Captain America and Iron Man Duke It Out in Civil War`

     I loved Marvel's Civil War, especially after the dumb-but-entertaining Batman versus Superman.  There is no question in my mind that Marvel derivatives have a much better understanding of human nature than the DC counterparts.  

     Civil War is an interesting theme, especially since many of my friends seem ready to start a war over relatively trifling differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, say. But in this movie, Iron Man (Tony Stark) is at the forefront of the ethical issue of advocating vigilante justice while also taking responsibility for collateral damage.  Specifically, innocent people routinely die during spectacular superhero operations, but you never hear about it.  Until now.   And the superheros naturally feel remorseful about the death of innocents, even if it seems unavoidable.  This is a worthy theme for superheroes to ponder.

     To deal with their dilemma, some of the heroes want to submit to the United Nations, while others want to work with no accountability.   It's a serious issue.   Marvel develops the case for both sides of the issue, and you might be surprised at which heroes come down on the side of law and order and which prefer vigilante-ism.  In fact they change sides and are forced into combat in a series of clashes, which my senior brain was too slow to fully comprehend. 

     The strongest characters continue to be Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chis Evans), both of whom are totally believable both in terms of their acting as well as the way their characters are defined.  Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) are also very convincing. However, some of the others are a bit more dubious.  Hawkeye, for example, is really kind of an oddball. What does the bow and arrow do that an AK-47 does not? It's the dumbest weapon since the Empire rolled out the ineffective and slow light saber.  Conversely, Scarlet Witch seems to have kind of the same powers as Yahwe, if only she would concentrate a little better.   The Vision is also too powerful and would be a better character if his abilities were better defined. 

   Speaking of Gods, I guess Thor may have not fully recovered from his last concussion, and the Hulk my have had a bad hamstring, because both cleanup hitters sat this one out.  That strikes me as a very odd decision. Perhaps it means that Hulk is going to take on Thor in an upcoming movie, and they thought it might be redundant to have the same two characters whaling on each other in consecutive movies (?)  I think I will go out on a limb and predict that that indeed will be the case, as Hulk seemed to enjoy beating up Asgardians the past few movies. 

Hulk Smash Thor?  Next movie...

     On the other hand, there are some other fan favorites that show up as a replacements.  I won't tell you everyone who shows up, but they are cool. 

The plot is a little complicated, and after a while I had to give up on figuring out who was changing sides and why and just enjoy the action scenes.  And if you haven't heard, you should stick around after the credits for a few extra scenes that might be important in the future.