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Movie Review Monday: X-Men First Class

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Mike Finkelstein has some special powers.  He could read people’s minds, control metals, morph into any person’s shape, and turn blue.  Turns out that Hollywood made a complete comic series about him (dividing his powers up among a bunch of different characters, of course), and now, a film!  Here he is with his review of “X-Men: First Class”

PLOT: The back story of the two original mutants, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender).  In 1962, the two join forces with the CIA to stop a rogue mutant, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), hell bent on igniting a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. They start to round up other mutants to help fight the battle, and start their journey to being known as Professor X and Magneto.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: The X Men franchise has been in a rut lately.  X-MEN and X2: X-MEN UNITED were excellent tellings by Bryan Singer, but then THE LAST STAND and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE took those two and flushed them completely down the toilet.   So it’s no surprise that people weren’t expecting anything from such a quick reboot.

Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t just say that X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a good return to the series, but I will go as far as saying that it might be the best out of the entire series.  Maybe it’s because of what we’ve had to deal with since 2003, but the story was fresh, the characters were clean, and the story was simple enough: a group of people trying to find their way.

At the center of all this are the two mutants that started it all: Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.   Here, Charles is not the mature, wheelchair bound oracle we all love.  He is a young man on his way toward a Doctorate.  He drinks, he flirts, and he uses his mindreading techniques and mutation lines to get girls. It takes a minute to get over the initial shock of seeing Professor X pound back a beer (everyone was young once…), but James McAvoy is so charming and noble in the role that you have no problem seeing him growing into what Charles will become in Patrick Stewart.

Erik, on the other hand, is not as innocent.  Put through torture and experiments in the Nazi Concentration Camps (the opening scene hits hard, seeing how equally brutal and nonchalant someone could be towards a child), he is bent on revenge.  He doesn’t believe in good in humans, and wants to kill all Nazis left alive on his way to the worst of them all: Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).  Michael Fassbender conveys the anger and hurt that eats away at Erik, and just like McAvoy, you could see him easily growing into Ian McKellen over the years.  What Fassbender does that’s even greater, however, is he makes Erik’s views make sense.  There is no doubt that Xavier is the good guy, but there’s always been a huge gray area for Erik.  When you’re able to look at Magneto not as a future villain, but a good man with his own views and fears, you know the actor is doing his job right.  Add this to Fassbender’s roles in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS and the upcoming A DANGEROUS METHOD, and you’ll see a man who is going to be A-list very soon.

When Charles and Erik finally meet, magic happens.  Again, this tale is about finding your way, and realizing that you’re not alone.  Seeing the relief in their eyes, you almost feel like you’re being let in on an extraordinary moment you shouldn’t have ever had the privilege to see.  You know where they are going to end up, but you’re able to see them now as nothing more than two innocent kids, trying to do what is right by them, and that’s special.

As for the supporting players, we have some fun and unique mutants on both sides, but Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult as the conflicted Raven (Mystique) and Hank McCoy (Beast) are the most intriguing.  Out of all the subplots, theirs carried the most weight due to the extreme choices they would have to make to be normal.  Yes, there were some clichéd speeches, but still cute nonetheless.

Kevin Bacon has a game named after him, and for good reason!  The man could pretty much play anything.  Here, he is mesmerizing as Shaw, first as a Nazi and then as a full blown 1960s baddie out of some James Bond movie.  We hate him, and yet, at the same time, he’s so evil that we don’t know how we’re going to beat him.  As an audience, the stakes are raised.

We also get some cool FBI agents, both sweet and cruel, including a gentle, good natured Oliver Platt, and a beautiful, genuine Rose Byrne. (She somewhat disappeared in the middle there for a while, but she did what she had to do.)

I think Matthew Vaughn knew he had something special here, because he took this origin story and did what Gavin Hood should have done with X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE: molded something beautiful out of it.  Many people were waiting for FIRST CLASS to fail (another reboot? *cough*), but the story was bare bones and back to basics, which is exactly what it needed.  We had developed characters and exciting subplots, and a few choice nods to the X-Men universe and the previous films (including two great cameos).  The 1960s feel was classic, yet fresh at the same time, and we had a great mix of action, drama, and especially in the training phases where everyone was messing up in some way, a pretty big dose of humor.  If I needed to point out anything specific that bothered me, it’d probably be Beast’s prosthetics and makeup, which reminded me of a chia pet Muppet, but that wasn’t anywhere near enough to take away from the storyline.

Basically, what I’m saying is If you’re a comic book or X-Men fan, or even just enjoy a good adventure caper or the old 1960s spy films, see X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.  You won’t be disappointed.

GRADE: A-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) MICHAEL FASSBENDER AND JAMES MCAVOY: These two actors embodied both the Charles and Erik from the comics, as well as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s visions, all while giving their own twist to the characters.  I had fun meeting any getting to know them as young men, and all the while, I still felt like I knew them for years.

2) CAMEOS: One cameo made me smile.  The other made me laugh my ass off.  Great little nods to the series and the other films.

3) COUNT TO THREE: Very intense bookends to a very intense film.  Beautifully done.

4) FIRST GLIMPSES OF CEREBRO AND STRYKER’S FATHER: The same type of nostalgia that the cameos had.  It’s that feeling of seeing all the beginning stages, and knowing what is to come of them in these people’s lives.

5) KEVIN BACON: Oh, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  There’s a reason why Kevin Bacon is in everything: because he’s good.  Here, his Sebastian Shaw was evil and flamboyant in a very Bond villain-ish way.  And I loved every minute of it

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) MAKEUP: Got to admit…I really didn’t like anyone who had a lot of makeup on.  Both Raven (Mystique) and Azazel looked like their layers were caked on, and Beast looked like a stuffed animal you could hug.

2) SOME CLICHÉ LINES: Yeah, I know it’s part of the theme, but some of the lines about being proud of who you are and not hiding (especially from Raven), got a little repetitive.  I understand.  Just annoying.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Taylor Lautner (yes, the Taylor Lautner) was considered to play Hank McCoy (aka Beast) but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.  Beast/Werewolf?  Pretty close….

2) Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy both appeared in “Band of Brothers” at the start of their careers. This is their first appearance together since.

 

Entertainment

REVIEW: “Sing Street” Will Put a Song in Your Heart… and Your iPod

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“I have just seen an instant classic.”

That’s what I said to myself as I left the theater, with the music and adrenaline of “Sing Street” still coursing through my veins.

It’s the kind of movie you want to turn around and see again, immediately. Right after you download the soundtrack. Yes, it’s that good.

Haven’t heard anything about it? I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t have known about this film either, except that my Regal Crown Club card finally paid off in the form of free tickets to an advanced screening. (Never mind the $25 popcorn.) Anyway, let’s watch!

Hooked yet? You will be.

Irish writer/director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) has conjured a nearly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Dublin. Think “The Commitments meets “Sixteen Candles meets “Footloose,” but all in one glorious package that manages to be both fresh and nostalgic at the same time. Drawing from his own teenage years at the real Synge Street school, Carney avoids the trap of creating a pure fluff piece by infusing the story with real heart.

A large part of that is due to the breakout talent and hero of Sing Street,” 16-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. As “Connor Lalor” navigates the tricky currents of a new school, family drama, and first love, Walsh-Peelo is heartbreakingly earnest, predictably awkward, and unexpectedly optimistic. Everything about his performance rings true. No small feat, considering that this is his acting debut.

Thanks to Carney’s non-actor, open casting approach, Walsh-Peelo is also joined by some equally promising new faces. Lucy Boynton is luminous as his love interest, “Raphina,” and Mark McKenna is quietly compelling as Conor’s songwriting partner, “Eamon.”

One of the most satisfying pairings, though, is anchored by the more experienced Jack Reynor (“Transformers:Age of Extinction”).  He shines as Conor’s older brother, “Brendan.”  Dealing with the angst of his own stalled dreams, Brendan tackles his brotherly mentoring role with gusto. Conor soaks up the advice like a ruddy-cheeked sponge, then begins to find his own way as his confidence grows.  Rarely do we see the underlying affection between two brothers played so simply and honestly,  so the relationship between Conor and Brendan is a lovely surprise.

The other undeniable star of “Sing Street” is the music.  While the story could have easily been told with the band only performing covers of ’80s hits,  Carney had a bigger vision for the film.  He collaborated with Scottish songwriter Gary Clark to craft 8 original tunes that not only add layers of light and shade to the storyline, but could be stand-alone chart toppers today.  From the gleefully retro “The Riddle of the Model,” to the Cure-tastic “Beautiful Sea,”  to the EMO ballad “To Find You,”  there’s something for everyone. Welcome to your summer soundtrack, people.

There are few darker notes to the plot, and the ending feels slightly of place, but in general “Sing Street” will leave you feeling as light and fizzy as a packet of Pop Rocks.

The movie poster reads: “Boy Meets Girl. Girl Unimpressed. Boy Starts Band.”  That’s it in a nutshell, of course, but happily, this film is so much more.

SING STREET opens in New York April 15th, and is in theaters nationwide on April 29th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrate The Fourth With Our Picks For Great American Movies!

What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

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What makes a film distinctly American? Sometimes it recollects the spirit of our patriotism, and other times it is so iconic and popular that it defines an entire generation of our culture. Here are our picks for some great American movies! Why not celebrate your Independence Day holiday by popping up some popcorn and enjoying one?

It’s impossible to list them all… this is just a handfull! Scroll down and tell us what your favorites are!!!

Let’s start at the beginning!

Do you have what it takes to watch a black and white classic? (Don’t break my heart by replying if the answer is no.) Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 classic starring James Cagney – telling the story of the great entertainer George M Cohan. He’s the man behind the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”  A true classic with distinctly American music and showmanship. Watch the trailer!

There’s something about the fifties and sixties that still plucks at the nostalgic heartstrings of America. And yet, two of the most iconic movies about that period were actually shot decades later, with a heartfelt look back at those times.

Both American Graffiti and Grease come to mind. While American Graffiti can take bragging rights for bringing us more breakout stars, (and being written and directed by George Lucas), Grease seems to enjoy more clout as a family friendly favorite.

1986 was a  good year for Tom Cruise, and a good year for movies. Top Gun starred Tom Cruise stars as a student at Top Gun Naval Academy. It sparked a sense of patriotism, and the continued ascent of Cruise’s career. (If you’re watching with your kids, you might wanna skip ahead once you start hearing the song “Take My Breath Away.” Love scene ahead! Still, some might argue it’s pretty tame by today’s standards.)

Forrest Gump (1994) proved not only to be an excellent movie, but also an impromptu history lesson.
The story follows an unlikely hero (played by Tom Hanks) as he journeys through life, finding himself witnessing (and sometimes even influencing) a series of historic events, but is largely unaware of their significance. A true classic.

Before the luster of Mel Gibson had worn off, he portrayed Benjamin Martin, a man who becomes embroiled in the Revolutionary War. The late Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army.

The most recent of patriotic classics is 2012’s Lincoln. Daniel Day Lewis delivers a flawless performance as our 16th President under the directorial brilliance of Steven Spielberg. A new classic for the ages.

SHARE YOU PICKS BELOW! AND TWEET YOUR FAVORITES TOO!

For more movies updates, follow @BrianBalthazar on twitter!

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Movie Reviews

MOVIE REVIEW- WORLD WAR Z Is a Messy, Relentless Zombie Horror Flick That Really Works

Check Out Steven’s review for one of the biggest surprises of 2013, the epic zombie flick WORLD WAR Z.

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world-war-z-posterWORLD WAR Z

Paramount Pictures

Director- Marc Forster

Starring-Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale. Abigail Hargrove, Sterling Jerins, David Morse, David Andrews.

Steven’s Quick Review- Yes its production was messy, but WORLD WAR Z might be the biggest surprise of the summer movies in 2013. Thanks to relentless action, a number of good scares, and an on-target performance from Brad Pitt, WORLD WAR Z is an excellent zombie film. Even though it is barely based on its source material, Damon Lindelof’s rewritten third act will keep audiences guessing and add some scares to your summer movie slate.

Steven’s Review- Brad Pitt has become the kind of actor who now only does movies he truly wants to do, and only takes roles that challenge him. So when Pitt and his Plan B studios initially won the rights to Max Brooks bestselling novel WORLD WAR Z the options were endless. Yet from the start of production the movie had issues, between the initial script lacking invention, a director in Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE) who was found it difficult to make important decisions and the very public spat between Pitt and Forster that nearly sidelined the film indefinitely.  There were also the on-set issues, besides the arguments between the actor and director, there were problems on set in Hungary when government officials stormed the set and removed live weapons. Also, forced re-shoots that moved WWZ from a winter release to a summer tentpole. It’s easy to assume WORLD WAR Z was doomed from the start. But something happened along the way, something that shocked plenty during our screening of the film in May. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Pitt, Forster, and crew actually made a darn good zombie flick. With help from Damon Lindelof (“Lost”, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) who came to the rescue and reworked an ending  after the studio deemed the initial conclusion was not good enough for release.  Following Lindelof’s changes and a massive marketing campaign Brad Pitt’s newest pet project was ready to show the world.

WORLD WAR Z the book takes place in a post zombie war setting, when a journalist and U.N investigator goes all over the globe talking to survivors and getting their stories.  The film adaptation written by Drew Goddard (CABIN IN THE WOODS), Matthew Michael Carnahan (STATE OF PLAY), J. Michael Straczynski (THOR) and Damon Lindelof  has little to nothing to do with Brooks acclaimed novel. We begin meeting Gerry Lane(Pitt) , a former UN investigator who lives with his family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  Within 5 minutes of the opening credits, we are thrown into a full on zombie invasion, with riots in super markets and speedy zombies chasing people down. WWZ Starts off with a bang. Gerry’s wife Karin(“The Killings” Mireille Enos), and his daughters Constance(Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) desperately leave the city and head towards New York, finding themselves in the streets of  Newark, New Jersey where they pick up supplies and await a helicopter pick-up thanks to Gerry’s old friends at the United Nations.

WORLD WAR Z is in no way a perfect movie; every now and then it finds itself deep into horror cliché, only to drag itself out with one big sequence after another. Pitt carries the film as he finds himself in worse situations every moment, but without being totally indestructible (meaning as an audience you never quite know whether Gerry Lane will make it out alive). Pitt’s performance feels dressed in reality, while he searches the globe for reasons why this zombie apocalypse is happening, worries for his safety and hopes to return to his family.

WORLD WAR Z is a suspenseful zombie flick that contains a few scares, but has the advantage of almost never slowing down.  The filmmakers found a way to protray a lot of violence and still receive a PG-13 rating – they show you enough death and destruction without maimed bodies and severed limbs. I enjoyed the fast paced nature of WWZ and the fact it never drags, it allows characters to develop and story to move forward without forsaking the zombie action fan in all of us.

As far as adaptations go, WORLD WAR Z could be considered one of the worst, it barely contains any connection to Max Brooks brilliant novel, other than a few characters names and one or two plot points. As far as summer surprises, WORLD WAR Z is a welcome break from comedies and super hero flicks that take up most of our time. But the pressure is on: it needs to bring in $500 million dollars to turn a profit for everyone involved. I enjoyed WORLD WAR Z and hope they can find a way to make some cash, so we can get more zombie action just like it.

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