Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Film Review: Swamp Thing (1982)

Release Date: February 19th, 1982
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, Dick Durock, David Hess

Swampfilms, Embassy Pictures, 91 Minutes (theatrical cut), 93 Minutes (DVD), 89 Minutes (alternate DVD cut)

Review:

“A man who loves, gives hostages to fortune.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

Other than A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow, I’m not a big fan of Wes Craven and actually think he’s one of the most overrated horror directors of all-time for a guy considered to be a legend.

Sure, that statement probably pisses off some fans of ’80s and ’90s horror but would you rather I lie?

Swamp Thing is another example of why I don’t like Craven.

It’s boring, dopey and looks like shit. And frankly, Swamp Thing is such a rich and cool character that this should have been a really easy movie to make even with a scant budget.

Hell, you’ve got Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan and Dick Durock, who would at least become a great Swamp Thing once the television show debuted in 1990.

I mean, this motion picture had the benefit of fascinating and marvelous source material, as well as a more than capable cast. But it just kind of sucks and the few things that should be somewhat endearing just don’t hit their mark in a way that lets them rise above the muck. Hell, I’m a sucker for nostalgia, even stuff I didn’t necessarily like from my childhood but revisiting this Craven flick was something I kind of put off and dreaded. But I had a friend that wanted to revisit it, so I got lured in.

And with that being said, many consider the sequel to be worse but I’m actually kind of looking forward to rewatching that one because from memory, there was more that I liked in that one.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel and the original Swamp Thing television show.

Film Review: RoboCop (1987)

Also known as: Robocop: The Future of Law Enforcement (script title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven, Monte Hellman (uncredited second-unit director)
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry

Orion Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” – RoboCop

I put off reviewing RoboCop for a long time on this site because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies and I wanted to save it for a rainy day. Well, the day wasn’t rainy but I was suffering from my almost annual mini cold that all the snowbirds bring down to Florida every January.

It is hard for me to talk about this film and not get overly excited about it, which certainly gives me a strong bias towards it and also taps into nostalgia and the possibility that I can’t be as objective, as I don’t care about a single flaw in the movie. But there really aren’t many, to be honest, and this was absolutely one of the best action movies of the ’80s and really, it’s better than almost every action movie now, 32 years later.

This is a film that just has the right kind of magic. It is lightning in a bottle and even though I like the first sequel, that film doesn’t come close to what director Paul Verhoeven did here. Plus, the script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner was absolutely superb. But the one thing that really brings everything together is the stupendous score by Basil Poledouris. His work on the Conan films and its themes were wonderful. Poledouris worked his musical magic again and gave RoboCop one of the best themes of all-time and the score is pretty incredible, overall. They just don’t quite make movie music this good anymore and without it, I don’t know if the movie has the same sort of energy and spirit.

All of those elements I just mentioned, created a film where the tone was perfect for the story that they needed to tell. And all of these solid pieces coming together so well still doesn’t account for how great the cast was. I mean, RoboCop truly is a perfect storm of badass sci-fi action.

Peter Weller is RoboCop and it will always be the role he is most remembered for but he has such a long and rich career of amazing performances that it isn’t hard to understand how he was so good in this and how he gave a robotic character a real sense of humanity. You feel his emotion, his pain and it is impossible to not root for Alex Murphy a.k.a. RoboCop.

The villains in this were so damn good though. They were kind of terrifying to me, as a kid, but the impact of who and what they are is still strong and it isn’t lost in a film where there is some of that famous ’80s movie cheese. The bad guys are well written with strong dialogue but they were also well cast between Kurtwood Smith, who steals the show, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise and even Miguel Ferrer, who isn’t specifically a villain but he is a reckless yuppie piece of shit.

I love Dan O’Herlihy in just about everything I’ve seen him in. He was creepy as hell as the villain in Halloween III and on the flip side of the coin, he was absolutely lovable as Grig, the alien co-pilot in The Last Starfighter. This is my favorite role he’s ever played, however. He was great as the old man running OCP, the corporation that pretty much owns all of Detroit. I also love that he continued to play the role after this film.

RoboCop birthed a franchise. While no other movie in the series has lived up to this one, which is a really tall order, it still spawned comic books, video games, a cartoon, action figures, sequels, a live action TV show, TV movies and a remake nearly three decades later. In fact, there is another RoboCop film in development now.

Many ’80s films don’t age well and while this is very much an ’80s motion picture, it doesn’t feel dated in quite the same way as other similar films from the time. RoboCop doesn’t have a dull moment and none of it slows down, it’s just balls out action and super violence of the highest caliber. Even critics love it and this is the type of thing that critics loathe.

If you’ve never seen this film, you’ve done yourself a disservice.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the RoboCop sequels and the first two Terminator movies.

TV Review: Mad Men (2007-2015)

Original Run: July 19th, 2007-May 17th, 2015
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: David Carbonara, RJD2 (opening theme)
Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Maggie Siff, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Paré, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Kevin Rahm, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton, Alison Brie, Joel Murray, Peyton List, Harry Hamlin, Linda Cardellini, Rosemarie DeWitt, Randee Heller, Caity Lotz, Ray Wise, Stephanie Courtney, Patrick Fischler, Alexis Bledel, Anna Camp,

Weiner Bros., Silvercup Studios, Lionsgate Television, @radical.media (pilot only), Lionsgate Television, AMC, 92 Episodes, 47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night saw the end of an era, as the series finale to Mad Men aired. The show was one of the best shows of the last ten years and frankly, one of the best television shows of all-time.

Sure, maybe I’m late in reviewing it because it is now over and it has been on television since the summer of 2007. I also didn’t have this blog back then and I like to wait and review television shows after they have had time to establish themselves.

Chances are, most of you reading this have already seen the show and formed your own opinions. Most of you probably loved it or at the very least, liked it. Sure, there is the minority that didn’t and that is fine. Regardless, it is what this show brought that makes it so iconic and important.

As viewers, we were thrown back into the 1960s. The time and the style of the show ignited nostalgia in a lot of folks and thus, had them engaged from the first scene: Don Draper sitting in a bar trying to solve the dilemma of marketing Lucky Strikes cigarettes.

The strongest element of the show was not its style however, it was its substance. With that opening scene, you knew that you were in the past, where things were quite different. A time where minorities and women were treated generally, pretty poorly. Also a time where cigarettes could be marketed and people were a lot less concerned about the health risks of smoking, drinking and sexually transmitted diseases. As the show traversed its way through the 1960s and into 1970 – in the final season, our characters were faced with a multitude of issues and many of them had to deal with the consequences.

There isn’t anything in this show that hasn’t been dealt with our addressed in entertainment before but what this show did, was take all of these issues and put them in one place. Mad Men was a brilliantly executed smorgasbord of the social, economic, political, health and safety issues of the time. It also doesn’t hurt that the show was just always stunning to look at and perfectly acted.

Whether it was the set designers, the creative directors or the wardrobe people on set, it all became a happy and perfect marriage and gave us something special and unique. It has also paved the way for other shows on non-premium cable television to take more risks and not be fearful of being too edgy.

Without Mad Men, AMC wouldn’t have become a television powerhouse. For those that forget, AMC used to just show old black and white movies and that was it. Mad Men opened a door at the network that led to shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, Hell On Wheels, Halt and Catch Fire, TURИ: Washington’s Spies, The Killing and the soon to debut Preacher, Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands. Mad Men also inspired a resurgence of period dramas on other networks – some successful and some, not so much.

With the last episode now having aired, I can say that Mad Men lived up to its continued hype and never disappointed. It was quality from day one and maintained its superior level of television storytelling all the way up to the very end. And ultimately, it had the balls to take everything it told you from the beginning and flip it on its head at the end.

The show had a unique ability to reinvent itself and its characters without the viewer realizing it in the moment. That being said, the characters on Mad Men could very well be the most human characters in television history.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Magic CityHalt and Catch FireThe Astronaut Wives Club and Manhattan.