Film Review: 25th Hour (dir by Spike Lee)


(SPOILERS)

First released in 2003, 25th Hour is one of those films that gets better and better with each subsequent viewing.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) may have done some very bad things in the past but nearly everyone has benefited.  His childhood friends, a trader named Frank (Barry Pepper) and a teacher named Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), both get to live vicariously through their friend, even if neither one of them is quite willing to admit it.  Monty’s father (Brian Cox) is a retired fireman who now owns a bar that was largely purchased with the money that Monty made from dealing drugs.  Monty’s girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), is “living high” off of the profits of Monty’s drug deals.  For that matter, so is Monty.  Monty has a nice apartment, a loyal dog, and a supportive boss named Uncle Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili).

Of course, Monty understands that he’s in the business of destroying lives.  When Monty first met Naturelle, he had just completed a transaction with a well-dressed businessman.  Years later, when Monty is sitting on a bench with his dog, that same man approaches him and begs for more drugs.  The man’s no longer wearing a suit.  Now, he’s apparently homeless and so addicted that he takes it personally when Monty informs him that he’s no longer in the drug-selling business.

Why is Monty no longer selling?  Someone told on Monty.  When the DEA showed up at his apartment, it didn’t take long for them to find the packages that he had hidden in the cushions of the couch.  For all of his swagger and confidence, it would appear that Monty wasn’t quite as clever as he thought he was.  Monty was arrested and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison.

The majority of 25th Hour takes place during Monty’s final night of freedom, a night that he’s planning on spending it with Frank and Jacob, both of whom could have made the same mistakes that he did but, for whatever reason, they didn’t.  Needless to say, Monty’s got a lot on his mind.  For all of his attempts to hide it, Monty isn’t as tough as he pretends to be.  He knows that it’s not going to be easy for him to do seven years in confinement.  He’s terrified of getting raped in prison and he worries that he’s going to be locked in a holding cell with 200 other criminals.  Both he and his friends know that, even if he does survive, he’ll be a different man when he gets out.  Frank suggests that he and Monty could open a bar when Monty is released but they both know this is an empty promise.  Not only is Monty is scared of the future but he’s haunted by the past.  Is he getting what he deserves?  What if he had made different choices?  Will Nautrelle wait for him or, as some of his associates suggest, is she the one who betrayed him in the first place?

Over the course of the night, both Frank and Jacob are also forced to deal with their feelings towards Monty.  Frank is a Type A personality, the one who spends his day screaming into telephones and who eagerly looks forward to exploiting bad economic news for his own financial gain.  Frank says that Monty is getting what he deserves but, as the film progresses, it becomes obvious that Frank knows that he has more in common with Monty than he wants to admit.  Jacob, on the other hand, is a socially awkward teacher who is struggling to deal with a crush that he’s developed on one of his students (Anna Paquin).  If Frank fears that he’s more like Monty than he wants to admit, Jacob wishes he could be more like him.  At first, it’s hard to imagine that these three men could ever have been close friends but, as soon as you see them together, it all makes sense.

As directed by Spike Lee, one of American cinema’s greatest provocateurs, 25th Hour is more than just the story of one man’s last night of freedom.  Over the course of the film, Monty becomes a symbol of not just New York City but of America itself.  Driven by self-interest, Monty has spent his life ignoring the consequences of his actions and, now that he has no choice but to confront them, it’s too late.  During the film’s most famous scene, Monty stares in a mirror while his reflection rants against every single neighborhood and ethnic group in New York City.  The rant is such a powerful scene that it’s easy to miss the most important point.  Only at the end of the rant does Monty’s reflection admit that he’s as much to blame for his life as any of them.

Oh yes, the Rant.  The Rant is so famous that I was almost tempted to not mention it in this review, just because it doesn’t seem as if there’s much left to be said about it.  Even people who dislike the film seem to be in agreement that the Rant is one of the most powerful and incendiary moments in early 21st century cinema.  The Rant gives us a portrait of a divided and angry society in collapse and it’s a portrait that is probably even more relevant today than it was when the film was first released.  The Rant feels like such a classic Spike Lee moment that it’s surprising to discover that the Rant was included in the script even before Lee was attached to the film.

A few things about the Rant:

  1. The film deliberately leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not Monty is actually speaking.  We see the back of his head and his reflection but the movement of his head rarely seems to match the movement of his reflection.  Regardless of whether Monty is actually speaking or just imagining the rant, the scene does make clear that, even on his way to prison, Monty can only truly express himself while alone.  Of course, once he’s locked up, Monty’s not going to be alone for at least seven years.
  2. “Enron!”  I have to admit that, when I recently rewatched film, I laughed when Monty started ranting about Enron.  I can vaguely remember a time when everyone was obsessed with Enron and Halliburton and all that other stuff so I found it funny that I briefly had to struggle to recall just what exactly Enron was.  16 years from now, I wonder if people will watch old movies and TV shows and say, “Why are they all so obsessed with Russia?”

As well-done and brilliantly acted as it may be, the Rant has tended overshadow an even better moment.  It has been said that the key to a successful work of art is a good ending.  As a writer, I can tell you that endings are a hundred times more difficult than beginnings.  Fortunately, 25th Hour has an absolutely brilliant ending.

After having finally convincing Frank to beat him up (in an effort to make himself look tougher once he arrives in prison), Monty is being driven to the prison by his father.  As they leave New York City, Monty takes one final look at the city and it’s citizens enjoying freedom that he’ll never again have.  (This is such a New York City that you can’t help but feel that it’s adding insult to injury that Monty’s going to have to serve his time upstate.)  As he drives, Monty’s father begins to talk…

It’s all about decisions and consequences.  Monty made his decisions years ago.  Over the course of Monty’s last night of freedom, Frank, Jacob, Naturelle, and even Uncle Nikolai made their decisions.  And now, as he drives his son to prison, Monty’s father is forced to make a decision of his own.  There’s so much great acting to be found in 25th Hour but, during that final soliloquy, Brian Cox upstages all of them.  Brian Cox is one of those character actors who seems as if he’s been around forever.  He’s the type of dependable actor who, much like Monty’s father, is often taken for granted.  If nothing else, you have to be thankful for a film like 25th Hour because it gives everyone a chance to be reminded of just how brilliant an actor Brian Cox truly is.

(Here’s a random bit of a Brian Cox trivia.  While everyone knows that, in Manhunter, Brian Cox was the first actor to play Hannibal Lecter, he also played Winton Churchill the same year that Gary Oldman won an Oscar for playing the same role in Darkest Hour.)

25th Hour is not an easy film to watch.  At times, it’s one of the most depressing films ever made.  It’s tempting to say that, as bad as things ultimately turn out for him, you’re glad that Monty has his father and his friends but that’s really not true.  No matter how much his friends care about him or how much Naturelle and his father love him, Monty’s going to prison and his story is simply not going to have a happy ending.

And yet, 25th Hour is one of those films that you can’t look away from and, after you watch it, you simply can’t forget.  Every time I watch 25th Hour, I find new details to appreciate.  With each subsequent viewing, the pungent dialogue becomes even more multi-layered.  With each subsequent viewing, Monty becomes even more of an intriguing and tragic figure.  This is a film that makes you appreciate the brilliance of Edward Norton and mourn the fact that Barry Pepper rarely gets roles as good as his role here.  With each viewing, 25th Hour reminds you of what a great talent we lost when we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman.  It’s film that gets better with each viewing.

Assuming that Monty survived and managed to stay out of trouble, he should be out of prison by now.  Hopefully, wherever he is, he’s doing okay.

Playing Catch Up: The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie


The Good Dinosaur (dir by Peter Sohn)

It may be hard to remember this now but, at the beginning of 2015, a lot of film bloggers were very excited about an upcoming film from Pixar Studios.  “This,” they said, “is the film that will remind people why they love Pixar in the first place!  In fact, this might be the first animated film to get a best picture nomination since Toy Story 3!”  Of course, there was another movie from Pixar that was due to come out in 2015 but everyone agreed that movie sounded too weird and silly to be a legitimate contender.  One of the movies would be a huge success and the other would probably be forgotten in a year or two.

And, at the time, everyone was sure that The Good Dinosaur would be the triumph while Inside Out would be the also-ran.

Instead, the exact opposite happened.  Inside Out turned out to be one of the most innovative and charming animated films ever.  Meanwhile, The Good Dinosaur — despite being a financial and critical success — has struggled to escape from Inside Out‘s shadow.

But you know what?  Taken on its own terms, The Good Dinosaur is a likable and entertaining movie.  No, it’s not as good as Inside Out but then again, the same can be said for a lot of good movie that were released in 2015.  Inside Out, of course, is a movie for adults that can still be enjoyed by kids.  The Good Dinosaur is definitely a movie for kids but it’s still visually striking enough that adults can get something out of it as well.

Plotwise, The Good Dinosaur imagines a world in which that meteorite did not strike the Earth and dinosaurs and humans developed next to each other.  A teenage dinosaur — eager to prove that he’s worthy despite being clumsy and easily scared — gets separated from his family and tries to get back to them.  Along the way, he deals with villainous pterodactyls and befriends a human child that he names Spot.  Sadly, the film brings about as much depth to the idea of talking dinosaurs as Pixar previously brought to the idea of talking cars but still, it’s an enjoyable and undeniably effective film.  Unlike Inside Out, it may not be great but it’s definitely good enough.

The Peanuts Movie (dir by Steve Martino)

My sister Erin and I saw The Peanuts Movie when it first opened last November.  As we left the theater, we both agreed that the movie was genuinely sweet and cute but that the ending just didn’t feel right.  Ultimately, we agreed that the ending was just too happy.

I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest expert on the life of Charlie Brown but I do know that he’s been around for nearly 70 years and, in that time, I don’t think he’s ever really had a traditionally happy ending.  From what I’ve seen of his holiday specials, it seems that Charlie is usually fated to end up sitting by himself while snow falls all around him.  And really, that always seemed to be the main appeal of Charlie Brown as a character.  Even though nothing ever goes his way, he never stops trying.  Even though he may sometimes get discouraged, he never gives up.  The Peanuts Movie actually rewards Charlie Brown for his patience and that didn’t quite feel right.

But you know what?  Maybe, after 70 years, Charlie Brown has finally earned the right to have at least one unambiguously positive ending.  The Peanuts Movie was a financial success so I imagine there will be a sequel.  If, during that sequel, Charlie wins a game or kicks that football or gets a kite to fly or actually wears a flattering outfit, it’ll be a problem.  But for now, it’s acceptable and perhaps even appropriate that he finally got to feel good about something at the end of The Peanuts Movie.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a cute homage to the original Peanuts specials.  Despite that happy ending, it remains true to the spirit of its source material and it’s obvious that the filmmakers had a lot of affection for Charlie, Linus, Snoopy, and all the rest.

And yes, Snoopy does steal the entire film.

Was there ever any doubt?

Back to School #58: She’s All That (dir by Robert Iscove)


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She’s All That, a 1999 high school-set adaptation of My Fair Lady, has a lot to answer for.

When I, as an impressionable 13 year-old first saw this film, I left the theater believing that high school would be full of random, fully choreographed dance-offs.  That, after all, is what happened towards the end of She’s All That.  After watching as handsome jock Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) spent almost the entire movie changing Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) from an artist into a Prom Queen, the great prom dance-off made for the perfect climax.

I mean, just check it out:

Imagine how disappointed I was, once I finally did reach high school, to discover that it was actually nothing like She’s All That.  There were no big dance numbers for no particular reason.  I went to five different proms and none of them were ever as much fun as the prom at the end of She’s All That.

So thank you, She’s All That, for getting my hopes up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a guilty pleasure in much the same way as Never Been Kissed.  I was recently doing some research over at the imdb and I was surprised to discover just how many films Freddie Prinze,Jr. made between 1999 and 2002.  For the most part, they’ve all got rather generic names.  What’s funny is that I probably saw most of them because, back then, I would get excited over almost any PG-rated movie that featured a cute guy and had a hint of romance about it.  But, with the exception of She’s All That, I can’t really remember a single one of them.  But you know what?  Freddie Prinze, Jr. may not be a great actor and his films may have basically all been the same but he had a certain something that, when you were 13 or 14, made him the perfect crush.  There was a hot blandness to Freddie Prinze, Jr. that prevented him from being compelling but did make him the perfect star for a film like She’s All That.

Along with featuring that prom dance-off and being the epitome of a Fredde Prinze, Jr. movie, She’s All That is also remembered for featuring Rachael Leigh Cook as one of the most unlikely ugly ducklings in the history of the movies.  Rachael plays Laney and the entire film’s starting off point is that Zack has made a bet with Dean (Paul Walker, as handsome here as he was in Varsity Blues) that he can turn Laney into a prom queen.  However, it should be a pretty easy bet to win because all Laney has to do is let her hair down, start wearing makeup, and stop wearing her glasses.

Myself, I’m severely myopic.  Usually, I wear contact lenses but occasionally, I may be running late or may not feel like putting my contacts in or maybe I just want to try a different look.  So, occasionally, I’ll wear my glasses and I have to say that, other than a few guys who always make “hot librarian” jokes, everyone pretty much treats me the same regardless of whether I’m wearing my glasses or not.  I do have to admit though that, when I take off my glasses and dramatically let my hair down, I always say that I’m having a She’s All That moment.

Anyway, She’s All That is okay.  I like it but I don’t love it and, to be honest, the film’s main appeal is a nostalgic one.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Paul Walker both look good, Rachael Leigh Cook and Jodi Lynn O’Keefe will keep the boys happy, and Matthew Lillard has a few good scenes where he plays an obnoxious reality tv celeb.

And there’s always that dance number!

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Embracing the Melodrama #43: The Piano (dir by Jane Campion)


I recently watched the 1993 best picture nominee The Piano and all I can say is that it is going to be a struggle to put into words just how much I loved this film.

Taking place in the 19th century, The Piano tells the story of Ada (Holly Hunter), a Scottish woman who hasn’t spoken since she was 6 years old.  Like many things in this enigmatic film, the reason why Ada stopped speaking is never clearly stated.  What is known is that she communicates through sign language and by playing her piano.  While Ada is usually a black-clad and somber figure, she comes to life when she plays the piano.  Ada also has a daughter named Flora, the result of a brief affair that Ada had with one of her teachers.  Unlike her mother, Flora (played by 10 year-old Anna Paquin, long before True Blood) is rarely silent and delights in telling elaborate lies about how her father died.

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Ada’s father sells her into marriage to a New Zealand frontiersman named Alisdair (Sam Neill), a man who Ada has never even met.   When Ada and Flora first arrive in New Zealand, they are dropped off on the beach and forced to wait a night until Alsdair can meet them.  In the film’s most hauntingly beautiful scenes, Ada plays her piano on that beach while Ada dances in the surf.  It’s during those scenes that The Piano reveals three of its greatest strengths: the lush cinematography of Stuart Dryburgh, the haunting score composed from Michael Nyman, and the fact that Hunter and Paquin are totally believable as mother and daughter.  Not only is it easy to imagine Paquin growing up to look like Holly Hunter, but the two actresses even manage to perfectly imitate each other’s gestures and facial expressions.  Most of the reviews that I’ve read of  The Piano tend to emphasize the film’s focus on the conflict between the sensual and repressed but to me, the film works just as well as an exploration of the strong bonds that naturally exist between mothers and daughters.  I’m not ashamed to admit that when I look at the picture above, I reminded of how, when I was Flora’s age, I also used to hide behind my mom whenever I saw anyone that I didn’t know coming our way.

When Alisdair does finally show up to take them to their new home, he proves to be a rather cold and distant figure.  It would have been very easy for the film to portray Alisdair as being a completely heartless villain but, as played by Sam Neill, Alisdair is potrtayed as being less a traditional villain and more as just being a painfully unimaginative man who is incapable of understanding why Ada’s piano is so important to her.  To Ada, the piano and its music equals the life and freedom that she’s not allowed to experience.  To Alisdair, the piano is simply a bulky object that will not fit into his small house.  Over Ada’s objections (luckily, Flora is on hand to translate her sign language), Alisdair first leaves the piano on the beach and then agrees to sell it to Baines (Harvey Keitel), another white settler who — unlike Alisdair — is comfortable with the natives and their customs.

Baines, however, allows Ada to come over to his hut and play the piano.  He offers to give the piano back to her — key by key — if she agrees to continue to come to his hut and play while he watches and “pleasures” himself.  Reluctantly, Ada agrees but soon, she and Baines are falling in love.

Needless to say, when Alisdair finds out what has been going on at Baines’s hut, he is not happy.  As he largely considers to be his property, bought and paid for, he also feels that he has the right to decide whether or not she’s capable of playing her piano…

The Piano: Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin

The Piano is a simply an amazing and visually sensual film that is blessed with excellent lead performances from Hunter, Keitel, Neill, and Paquin.  As directed by Jane Campion, The Piano plays out as both a delirious homage to gothic romanticism and a feminist parable about the way that even women who aren’t mute are still punished for expressing their honest desires.

And, of course, there’s that amazing score:

Review: True Blood 7.1 “Jesus Gonna Be Here”


Sookie

I have to start out this review of the 7th season premiere of True Blood with an explanation and an apology.

I always like to think that I can write a good review regardless of what else might be going on in my life.  If I took a break from writing every time that I felt less than great, I certainly would not have ever reviewed Black Swan or The Perfect Teacher.  Sometimes, you just have to take your medicine and get things done.  That said, I should let you know that summer has just begun down here in Texas.  Pollen is everywhere and I have spent today battling my allergies.  I am definitely under the weather as I write this review and I apologize if that has effected my ability to properly consider tonight’s episode.

However, for the season premiere of a show that’s known for its complex storylines and huge cast, it doesn’t really seem like there’s much to analyze about what happened tonight.

Don’t get me wrong.  True Blood has always been an uneven show.  For every great episode of True Blood, there’s also a mediocre one.  For every brilliantly drawn and acted character (like Kristin Bauer van Straten’s Pam), there’s been characters who have never quite reached their potential but yet remain in the cast.  For every storyline that worked, there will be memories of Bill getting possessed by Lillith.

In the past, mediocre episodes or creative misfires did not worry me.  I accepted them as being just a part of what happens with all long-running television shows.  I accepted the occasional bad because I knew that the good would be great and I always knew that there was a chance that any creative miscalculations would be corrected in a future season.

However, we’ve now reached a point where there are no more future seasons.  This is it!  Season seven has ten episodes and then True Blood — as a television series — is over.  Rumor has it that there will be a Broadway musical and I’m certainly looking forward to it eventually showing up on the community theater circuit because I really do think that I’d be a natural for it.  But, until then, these final 10 episodes are all that we have left and True Blood — being True Blood — has a lot of storylines that it needs to somehow resolve so that viewers like me don’t feel like we’ve spent the last 7 seasons being set up for an anticlimax.

After all, we don’t want True Blood to end up like Dexter.

That’s why I can’t simply laugh off a mediocre or uneventful episode now.  As I sat through tonight’s premiere, a part of me was thinking that things were moving slowly because the show is setting up the foundation for a proper and satisfying finale.  However, another part of me wanted to scream, “HELLO — WE’VE ONLY GOT 10 EPISODES LEFT!  THESE HAVE TO COUNT!”

And I will admit — though this may have been the headache talking — I did end up hissing at the screen, “Where.  The.  Hell.  Is.  Erik!?”  As we all remember from last season’s finale, Erik was last seen naked on a mountain, bursting into flame as the sun shined down on him.  The important thing, however, is that we never saw Erik explode into red goo.  I chose to believe that Erik is still alive and, apparently, Pam agrees with me because tonight’s episode found Pam in Morocco searching for Erik.  There really weren’t enough scenes featuring Pam but I was happy for what we got of her.  Pam’s snarkiness always brings True Blood to life.  Hopefully, Erik will show up next week.

As for everyone else:

Tonight’s premiere began where season 6 ended.  A group of infected vampires attacked a human-vampire mixer at Bellfluer’s.  During the attack (which was well-filmed but still a bit too chaotic for its own good), vampire Tara is apparently killed and Holly and Arlene are kidnapped by the infected vampires.  Sam, who is now the mayor, orders that all the humans go home with an uninfected vampire, the idea being that the human will feed his vampire in return for protection.  Nobody is really happy with the arrangement and, as quickly becomes apparent, everyone blames Sookie.  What people don’t consider is that Sookie can hear their accusatory thoughts.  At the end of the episode, she goes to church and tells everyone off.  So, it looks like Sookie is once again frustrated with living in Bon Temps and thinking about saying goodbye to all of the drama and going off on her own.  Then again, that’s pretty much what always happens to Sookie.

(Sookie, incidentally, is now in a relationship with Alcide and good for her!  I still have a feeling that she’ll end the show with Sam but when you’ve been through everything that Sookie has, you’ve earned the right to spend a few nights with Alcide.)

Meanwhile, Sheriff Andy and Bill spent the episode looking for the kidnapped humans and I have to say that Andy has actually turned into a badass, even getting to save Bill from a group of human vigilantes.  However, Andy assures Bill that, even if there are temporarily allies, Andy still hates Bill and every other vampire.

Jessica, meanwhile, is stuck outside of Andy’s house, protecting Adelyn.  Despite the fact that Andy ordered his daughter not to invite Jessica inside, Adelyn does allow Jessica to enter to escape both the rising sun and to thank her for protecting her from a random vampire who wanted to drink Adelyn’s blood.  Once inside the house, Jessica nearly attacks Adelyn but manages to stop herself.

And finally, Jason has sex with his vampire girlfriend.  It’s not an episode of True Blood unless Jason is having sex with his vampire girlfriend.

I always enjoy watching True Blood and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season but I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with tonight’s premiere, which seemed to move slowly and, oddly for True Blood, didn’t really seem to be too concerned with moving any of the show’s dozen or so storylines forward.  Hopefully, future episodes will pick up the pace because, after all, we’ve only got nine more left and they have to count!

And, hopefully, Erik will return.

Soon.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “X-Men : Days Of Future Past”


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At this point, I freely admit to being a little bit confused : X-Men : Days Of Future Past opens to a somewhat lower box office take than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did, which was only slightly behind the opening-frame receipts generated for Captain America : The Winter Soldier, and yet Cap and the X-Men are both considered “successes,” while Spidey’s considered a “disappointment” — even though, last I checked, its’ total gross ticket sales were only about $50 million behind Cap’s despite the fact that it opened a full month later?    Chances are probably good  that it will even end up closing the gap here at some point, but no matter — the die appears to have  already been cast. The stench of that rat I mentioned smelling in my Spider-Man review a couple weeks back? It’s getting a lot stronger now.

Needless to say, I’ve got a theory as to what’s going on here, and it builds upon my theory already expounded upon in that just-mentioned prior review : Disney/Marvel actively wants the Spider-Man franchise back, but the X-Men? Not so much. At least not yet.

How else to explain this clearly-orchestrated PR campaign? Look, internet movie critics are an easy bunch to buy off : for a free ticket, or even the promise of some kind of other free swag in the future, you can get thousands of people to say whatever you want them to. And from there, you can get thousands of others to mimic the already-established meme of whether a given flick is “successful” or not, because gosh, who would dare contradict the well-established critics and box-office analysts who have already passed judgment on the merits of a particular work? For the price of probably less than $10,000 in either payments or promises, DisMar has the movie-going public right where they want us, echoing their nonsensical party line and unsupported-by-the-facts pronouncements.

Needless to say, I don’t feel like playing along — for the most part. But there’s one area where I do agree with the general consensus, even if the fix is in : X-Men : Days Of Future Past is a really good superhero flick. And that might just throw a wrench in Marvel’s “this one’s dying on the vine, let’s just wait it out and see what happens” game plan.

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Seriously, friends, this one has everything and the kitchen sink going on, but somehow returning director Bryan Singer (more on him in a minute) juggles every ball thrown in the air and makes it work : the “divergent timelines” conceit that forms the core of the plot never gets confusing even though it easily could; the action sequences are brisk and spectacular; the characters are uniformly believable and compelling; and the performances, from perhaps the most star-studded cast ever assembled for a comic-book film, are all first rate. When you’ve got Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry, Michael Lerner, Booboo Stewart, Omar Sy, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin, James Marsden and Famke Janssen all punching the same time clock, it goes without saying that  some are going to have more to do than others, but nobody seems intent on stealing the show for themselves, which is no mean feat considering the sheer number of sizable egos that must be involved here. Sure, the script puts most of the onus of Wolverine, the young Professor Xavier, the young Magneto, the young Beast, the young Mystique,  and the villainous Dr. Bolivar Trask, but that doesn’t mean everybody else doesn’t give their admittedly smaller parts at least a reasonable effort. Shit, I’m not sure how you even get stars of the stature of Page, Berry and Paquin to even accept what are essentially tertiary-at-best roles (does Paquin even have a line of dialogue?), but somehow they keep showing up for X-Men flicks, and in this case the place doesn’t even seem that crowded. Shit, Singer even manages to sneak in quick cameo for Wolverine co-creator Len Wein.

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In many ways what makes  Days Of Future Past so successful is that fact that it’s actually more a direct sequel to First Class (which I also thoroughly enjoyed) than it is the initial X-trilogy, and some of the continuity changes that the end results of this film apparently seal into place even seem to undo how those first three films “wound up,” but whatever — the end result here is a franchise that feels like it’s been given a new lease on life after treading water for a good half-decade or so. I mentioned just a moment ago that I really dug First Class, but you can’t get by on prequels forever. At some point a movie needed to come along that propelled the X-Men franchise forward, and this does so with plenty of style and flair.

Plus, the whole thing’s a lot of fun — sure, some of the dialogue is overly- verbose and clunky and painfully expository, but those instances are rare, and actually stand out in contrast to the general ease and flow of the rest of the film. And while the premise itself requires a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief, let’s be honest here — what super-hero movie doesn’t? At least this one rewards your willingness to go with the flow in ways that even highly-touted fare like Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (a favorite target of my ire, I admit, but only because it really does suck, no matter what anyone else thinks) could never hope to manage. Plus, audiences get a chance so see Dinklage prove that he can” bring it”  in each and every role he takes on, not just on Game Of Thrones — something those of us who have been fans of his work ever since The Station Agent have long maintained.

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In case it weren’t painfully obvious already, I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men : Days Of Future Past, and after appearing to flounder in the wake of the risible Valkyrie, my faith in Bryan Singer as a director has probably never been higher — unfortunately (here’s where that “more on him in a minute” comes in), I can’t say the same in regards to my faith in Bryan Singer as a human being. I won’t kid you — the sexual abuse allegations that have been leveled against him really bother the shit out of me. And no, it has nothing to do with Singer’s sexual orientation : I don’t care if a person is straight, gay, or somewhere in between, any and all relationships — whether serious, casual, or less than casual — between consenting adults are fine by me. Everybody likes to get laid, have at it. But age of consent laws are there for a reason, and kids and teens are, and should be, off limits to grown adults. The fact that  the “fan” community seems so eager to point out that Singer’s accuser has filed civil rather than criminal charges and that he’s apparently done so in the past is both irrelevant to the reality of what may or may not have occurred,  and represents a clear case of reprehensible victim-shaming of the highest order. Sure, everyone’s innocent until proven guilty, but assuming, or even implying, that somebody who’s been brave enough to come forward with claims this serious just has to be a liar because they’re choosing to address this issue in ways that others either don’t understand or approve of is beneath contempt. Maybe we’ll never know the whole truth of this matter, but if Singer did what’s he’s been accused of, then he’s got some serious issues and needs some serious help and sure,  I feel some amount if sympathy for whatever turmoil is boiling away inside his mind — but not half as much as I do for the teen boy (s) that he’s victimized (if he has). I don’t want to see him condemned in the court of public opinion if he’s completely innocent, but I don’t want to see his accuser condemned, either, and that’s what’s been happening. Sex between adults and those not legally deemed to be adults (in most states that’s 18, in some 16) is against the law, period, and if Singer did, in fact, engage in the sort of behavior that’s been alleged,   then I’m done with him from here on out. End of rant.

Regardless of what’s he’s done in his off-hours, though, the perhaps-tragic fact (depending on how legal proceedings play out) remains that what he’s done while on company time just can’t be denied in this case. I wish I could love X-Men : Days Of Future Past with a totally clean conscience, sure, but I can’t deny that I loved it just because it may have been directed by a guy whose personal behavior is both sleazy and illegal. It’s a complex set of circumstances to weigh in one’s mind, to be sure, but so goes life. I wish its murky waters were easier to navigate, but they never have been, and they’re never going to be.

As for the future of all things X-Men, I’ll make one easy prediction right now : when this thing hits home viewing “platforms” in a few months’ time, look for a bevy of reviews along the lines of “ya know, maybe this this isn’t quite as good as we thought at first” and “on second viewing, the flaws in this one are obvious” — not because such sentiments will be true, but because Days Of Future Past is so well-done, and opens up so many possible avenues for the franchise going forward, that Marvel’s gonna want to start one of their infamous “whisper campaigns” to try to undermine the public’s confidence in having it in “other hands” and get it back in their own  grubby, greedy paws.

Review: True Blood 6.10 “Radioactive”


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Eric better not be dead!

A lot happened on tonight’s sixth season finale of True Blood.  Along with wrapping up Warlow and Billith’s storylines, it also set up what’s presumably going to be season 7’s major storyline.  A lot of strange things have happened over the past two seasons of True Blood and tonight’s finale promised both a return to normalcy and a new beginning.

And with all that in mind, my number one reaction to tonight’s finale was this:

ERIC BETTER NOT BE FREAKING DEAD!

Admittedly, when we last saw Eric, things did not look good.

Warlow, having revealed himself to be just as evil as we all knew he was and refusing to allow Sookie to back out of their arranged marriage, was finally killed by Sookie’s grandfather (Rutger Hauer), who, in this best tradition of dues ex machina, managed to pop out of his little prison dimension and drive a stake through Warlow’s heart.  Warlow dissolved into red goo and, with the death of Warlow, all of the vampires who had drank his blood lost their ability to walk in the daylight.

The majority of the show’s vampires were safely inside when this happened.  However, Eric was sunbathing naked in the Swiss Alps and, as he lost his special Warlow powers, he burst into flames.

A collective cry went up on twitter as thousands of Eric fans (present company included) tweeted out a massive: “NOOOOOOOO!  NOT ERIC!”

However, there is hope.  The scene cut away from Eric before we actually saw him explode.  So, maybe Eric managed to bury himself in the show.  Maybe he ran into a nearby cave.  Maybe Lillith reached out and saved Eric’s life.

As far as I’m concerned, until I see definite proof of his true death, Eric lives!

Warlow’s demise occurred about halfway through tonight’s finale.  At that point, season 6 officially ended.  Warlow’s gone.  The vampires can no longer walk in the day.  Bill, having refused to go off with Lillith’s sirens, is finally starting to act like Bill again.  And hopefully, Eric’s not dead.

The second half of the episode felt like a preview for season 7.  We jumped ahead 6 months into the future and we discover the following:

Sookie is living with Alicide.  (You go, girl!)

Sam is now married to annoying Nicole and is mayor of Bon Temps.

Andy is still very protective of his last remaining daughter.

Bill Compton is now a published author.  He’s written a book about his experiences as a God.  In the book, he writes about ripping the Governor’s head off of his body.  He also reveals that Hep V was a creation of the government.

Hep V, meanwhile, has become an epidemic.  Although only vampires are killed by it, the virus can live in humans as well.  Mayor Sam arranges for a human/vampire mixer so that the citizens of Bon Temps can pair up — one human to a vampire.

And while everyone in town gets acquainted, an army of infected vampires shambles towards the gathering like zombies from a George Romero film…

And that’s how season 6 ends.

So, what did everyone think of season 6?  I thought it was one of the better seasons of True Blood and a definite improvement on season 5.  That said, I was definitely happy to see Bill acting like Bill again at the end of tonight’s episode.

Hopefully, Season 7 will start with Eric showing up on Bill’s front porch and saying, “The weirdest thing happened in Switzerland…”

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Unofficial scene count: 45
  • As fun as it was to see all the daywalking vampires happy at the start of tonight’s episode, I’m kinda glad that they lost that power.  I’m not sure how many more scenes of vampires playing volleyball I could take.
  • My first tweet after the end of this episode: “Fuck you, #Newsroom!  I’m too concerned about Eric on #TrueBlood to care about some maniacal news anchor!”
  • Alcide was wearing the word’s worst wig at the start of tonight’s episode.
  • I had forgotten all about that whiny scientist until he showed back up tonight.
  • Again, we never saw Eric explode into red goo.  That’s the important thing.
  • “You don’t want a vampire bride!  You want a faerie vampire bride!”
  • I’ve had a lot of fun reviewing True Blood this season.  I look forward to doing it again next season.  Thanks for reading!