Another good movie in a good year of movies!
This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!
So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.
And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.
The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters... [More]
Edge of Tomorrow mimics video game respawning.
Video game adaptations have generally been pretty awful. Edge of Tomorrow isn't based on a video game (it's actually based on a Japanese novel), but it manages to feel more like a video game than any game-based movie that I've ever seen, while still providing an interesting and fun narrative built upon a unique time-travel premise.
The movie takes place in a present-day earth that has been invaded by hostile aliens, slowly but steadily consuming the cities of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the combined forces of earth's nations can't slow them down. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered into active combat in a surprise assault against the aliens, despite being a propaganda officer rather than an actual soldier. During the assault, the human soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered, but Cage manages to kill an alien only to be boiled alive by the alien's acidic blood. However, Cage gains the alien's ability to go back in time to reset the day after he dies. So when Cage dies, he immediately wakes up back at the army base just prior to the invasion to start the day over again.
Cage gets stuck in a "Groundhog Day" cycle, constantly reliving the same failed invasion over and over again. He tries to change the outcome, but plays such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things that his efforts are all in vain, and he must repeatedly experience the invasion until he has effectively memorized every event. In each repeat cycle, he gets a little bit better at staying alive, just like a video gamer playing a trial-and-error level in an old-school video game (think Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, or the more recent Demon's Souls). He learns the location of every alien, every mortar shell, every landmine, every piece of flying debris, until he can essentially walk through the invasion with his eyes closed either avoiding or eliminating threats with virtually no effort.
As a gamer, it was very interesting for me to watch a film narrative that is completely based around one of gaming's central conceits: respawning after a character dies... [More]
Cover of Uncanny X-Men #141:
Days of Future Past.
So, what's the deal with the "Days of Future Past" X-Men story, anyway? Sure, it's a great storyline, but other comics also have similarly great storylines. Yet, I can't think of any other comic story that is treated with as much reverence as this particular one. No other comic book story that I can think of has been directly adapted as often as this one. Not "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", not "The Death of Superman". These comic stories have been reference in numerous media, particularly Gwen Stacy's death, but rarely are they adapted. But I've yet to see an incarnation of X-Men that does not include a version of the "Days of Future Past" storyline. It's been featured in multiple animated series, video games, and novelizations.
Of course, all of the various retellings of this story take their own creative liberties, and the new movie from 20th Century Fox is no exception.
This film is designed to be a sequel to both the First Class and Last Stand movies in the X-Men franchise. I was kind of surprised that the studio took this particular approach, since there were some nagging inconsistencies and continuity issues with the two timelines. But I guess Hollywood never cares as much about continuity as the nerdy fanboys do... Fortunately, these continuity issues don't come up or interfere with this film.
In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The creative liberties were generally positive, and the combination of the two timelines actually works surprisingly well. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the depressed, brooding depiction of the younger Xavier, but I don't know enough about the character's comic book history to know whether this is anachronistic, and it definitely wasn't to the movie's detriment.
I only have a handful of criticisms of this movie, and a few of them are really just personal annoyances rather than genuine flaws in the film's production. [More]
You'd think that super-hero movie makers would have learned some lessons from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Specifically, you'd have hoped that they'd have learned not to throw too many villains into one movie - especially if you have to cover the origin of all of them. As I stated in my review of the first Amazing Spider-Man, it was too soon to reboot the Spider-Man movie franchise. After Spider-Man 3, that franchise could have used a new cast (Tobey Macguire was starting to look flabby in the Spider-Man tights), but a complete reboot was unnecessary and premature. Andrew Garfield could have filled Tobey's shoes as an older, more mature, confident Peter Parker without the need to reboot the franchise and retell the origin story.
The movie really bogs down after Peter stops fighting bad guys and starts looking for his parents. Didn't we already see this exact same stuff in the last movie?
The first movie felt completely unnecessary and just didn't look or feel right. This movie is at least brighter and more colorful. It isn't visually as dull and washed-out as the previous movie. Garfield continues to excel in the role of Spider-Man with witty chit-chat, and the costume looks absolutely brilliant! He still doesn't sell himself as Peter Parker though, and his voice sounded muffled in his mask at some times, but if you could understand Bane, then you can follow along with Spider-Man.
So while it looks and sounds good, Amazing Spider-Man 2 just falls completely apart in its narrative. [More]
Last night, the first episode of the reboot/sequel to Carl Sagan's acclaimed series Cosmos premiered on FOX and National Geographic Channel. I'd been anticipating this show since it was announced last year, as the original Cosmos is one of the best educational programs that has ever been produced. This show is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose passion and charisma makes him an excellent communicator of scientific ideas (right up there with Bill Nye) and fitting successor to Sagan.
The new "cosmic calendar".
In this premiere episode, Tyson gives a brief tour of the solar system, recounts the story of Giordano Bruno, and introduces the viewer to Sagan's classic "cosmic calendar". The information presented in this episode is very high-level. I'm hoping that this is due to the introductory nature of this first episode, and that the remaining episodes will go into much greater depth and detail. However, I fear that the one-hour format will be too constraining for Tyson to provide any information of substance. Sagan's original series was made up of thirteen episodes each two hours long, and that format gave him the opportunity give more than just an introduction to a given topic, providing specific details on the evidences and experiments that lead to the discoveries he presented. Will Tyson have the time in later episodes to provide more information than one can get from the first paragraph of a Wikipedia article? I hope so. [More]
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