Monday, June 9, 2014

Moonlight Movie Reviews - X-Men: Days of Future Past and A Million Ways to Die in the West

Hey, I actually got to take a photo of the food I ordered at the Drafthouse this time!
But that was during A Million Ways to Die in the West. First, let's talk about...

Now, I suppose most of you have already seen this one if you were really psyched about it. It's been out for a couple weeks. You've probably also heard that it is pretty freakin' awesome. It IS. If you loved "X-Men: First Class", well, you might even like this one better than that. Or maybe that's just me. Yeah, I think this one WAS even better than First Class. Maybe because Wolverine is a main character in this one. I'm a big fan of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. I even liked BOTH the solo films. I get the whole thing about Deadpool, but otherwise, I think the first one is really damn good and don't get all the hate for it. And, the second is excellent. As for the past X-Men movies, I like them a lot too. Sure, I can see some of the problems people had with them, but I still liked all of them a lot. I've been a genuine fan of the series. Granted, I wasn't an X-Men follower before the films, so I don't have a lot of the fanboy nitpicks to deal with. But I still am always interested to hear about those too. After all, I'm a fanboy for plenty of subjects. I do prefer for movies to have loyalty to source material, though I'm coming to accept them more and more as their own universes/incarnations as well. But, I digress, despite even fanboy nitpicks, it seems most people are loving Days of Future Past.

The story picks up after X-Men 3: The Last Stand. At this point, that movie seems ages ago. Oh, wait, apparently it was 8 years ago. Okay, that's disturbing! And, Wolverine is supoosed to look exactly the same throughout all these past 6 (now 7) movies, which he doesn't (we see he has gotten quite massive by this film), yet we all seem to have agreed to pretend he does. If it works, ha... Anywho, the movie starts in a dystopian future that is one of the bleakest I've ever seen. This is mainly because of the invention of robots called Sentinels that were built to capture or destroy all mutants and humans who help them. One of the main reasons they are so effective at it is that they can replicate the powers of any mutants they encounter (reminds me of Amazo from the DC Universe). In fact, at this point, there are only a very tiny few of our heroes left, Magneto, Professor X, Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine among them. This pleases me. Kitty Pryde is sooo yummy, even though Ellen Page seems to be walking and dressing more butch than ever these days. More power to her, but I still like to fantasize about X3 Kitty...

Oh, and there's also a survivor called Blink, but I'll talk more about her on the next Crush of the Week. *drool*  We get a few other survivors too:  Storm, Iceman, Colossus, Bishop, Sunspot, and Warpath. The group moves from place to place to avoid being destroyed by the Sentinels, which are always hot on their trail. But, they do have a plan. Kitty Pryde seems to have the ability to send a person's consciousness back in time now, into their own, younger bodies. So, the group plots to send someone back to the 1970's to prevent the Sentinel robots from ever being created. This actually means stopping Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the inventor of the Sentinels. However, the assumption is that no one could survive being sent back in time that far via Kitty's technique, until they realize Wolverine is the exception. So, he's the lucky winner.

And, here we get to something I've been concerned about since the second Wolverine solo film. In that film, Wolverine's metal claws were broken off. Of course, he grew back his bone claws, but without the Adamantium coating. Well, by the future of this film, we see he has his metal claws back, though I don't recall anyone explaining how this happened. I assume maybe Magneto helped out with this, I don't know... Also, hey, wasn't Wolverine recruited at the end of his second solo film to take part in this mission? Rather confusing, since that one seemed to be set in modern day, not in a dystopian future of giant robots and dark, terrifying skies and space age concentration camp imagery. Oh well... otherwise, ha, these movies for the most part are well tied together. And at this point is where things get really badass, because this is where they merge the older X-Men movies with the new class! Or, First Class, rather.

Wolverine goes back to the 70's, and there we have the merger of the most awesome aspects of the X-Men films, the Wolverine character and the excellence of First Class, with its period settings and fresh cast, and Jennifer Lawrence pretty much naked. In all honesty, I'm not really one of those guys who crushes on Jennifer Lawrence, but it is still a pleasure to see her... basically... naked. I mean, she's not awful looking. In addition, dang, she pulls off some impressive fighting action in this flick. I have no idea if that's her or a double, and with the makeup, I guess it wouldn't be that hard to use a double, but it was pretty convincing. These movies really are a feast for the eyes on so many levels! 

Anyway, so, Wolverine wakes up in his 1970's body and has to locate 1970's Professor X, James McAvoy, who has closed down his school for mutants and is living there in rather bad condition with only Hank "Beast" McCoy as company. Both use a drug McCoy invented to suppress their mutant characteristics. This has turned into an addiction for Professor X, but using the drug also restores his ability to walk. Wolverine, Professor X, and Beast decide they will need Magneto's help to stop Mystique, so they recruit a mutant called Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help break him out of prison.

That's all I'm gonna say about the plot. Suffice to say it is about preventing Trask from building these robots and destroying all mutants in the future. There's also the time element involved, because in the future, Kitty and the gang are still fending off attacks as they try to keep Wolverine in the past long enough to alter the present (which, of course, is the future). Bottom line, it's all rather brilliantly done. It's an amazing film. The cast is excellent, several major players we've seen before return (we're all still missing Nightcrawler though), the effects and all around visuals are awesome, the writing is great. Everything is excellent. So... let's talk about Quicksilver a bit before I move onto this week's other film review.

Yeah, Quicksilver. This is an interesting character for a couple of reasons. He is played here by Evan Peters, who is excellent every season on "American Horror Story", and who I know has quite a fangirl following from it (he's also engaged, or is it married... to Emma Roberts; must be nice). The interesting things are that this superspeed mutant is also set to appear, in a different incarnation, in Disney's "Avengers 2", so there's been a lot of comparison of the two versions, and also that this particular version was met with a lot of mockery from fans before the film actually came out. To put it simply, Evan Peters' Quicksilver outfit, especially the hair, looked stupid. Everyone hated it. It's funny how things work out. Not only did it look better on film, but the assumption it led to that this would be a really lame character was blown out of the water. Frankly, Quicksilver was the highlight of the whole picture! No lie! He is only in it for a few scenes. They pick him up, he helps them break Magneto out of prison, and then they ditch him. Honestly, this guy seems capable of accomplishing any mission that lies before them. Yeah, he was a bit sketchy, but they really should have brought him along. I guess that would have made everything too easy, ha. I mean, basically, he moves so fast that everything else just stops for him. Like, to the point that he can take his time to give security guards wedgies before casually rearranging bullets in mid-air so that they won't hit their intended targets. It's a scene that is truly a delight to watch, all set to the song "Time in a Bottle". It is priceless. Peters is hilarious in this role, and now I'm actually worried about "Avengers 2". I LOVE the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" over at Disney, and I really want those films to stay at the top of their game, so I really hope their Quicksilver will turn out just as good in his own way. I don't know. The pleasant surprise of Days of Future Past may spell trouble for Avengers 2's Quicksilver... The comparison from fans and critics is inevitable...

Anyway, that's all I'm gonna say about that. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is fantastic! Go see it if you haven't already! If you enjoyed ANY of the previous X-Men films, you should have a great time! I just wish I still knew someone who liked these kinds of movies so I didn't have to always go see them alone! Movies are usually better with company.

Speaking of going to see movies alone, I saw another movie alone this past weekend...

As with nearly every movie I've gone to a theater to see since moving to Austin a few years ago, I saw Seth MacFarlane's new comedy, "A Million Ways to Die in the West", at the Alamo Drafthouse. I didn't happen to grab any preshow photos from X-Men because I barely arrived before the film began (I HATE it when I miss the preshow clips!). However, in a very rare bit of circumstance, I actually was waaay early for this one and the first one into the theater. And, despite the claims that this film is tanking, it was a sold-out house (I actually bought the last available seat). Of course, they screened it in one of the uber-tiny rooms with very few, very short rows of seating. No matter, even at the right end of the front row, I had a good and comfortable view. I was able to enjoy the preshow, which included a classic bit of Tex Avery, as well as  order my meal and even start on it before the movie ever began. That hasn't happened in the longest time!

So, I finally got to take a so-so photo of the Drafthouse pizza I'm always raving about. Here is what I always order there (or, almost always): The Carnivore pizza with two of those little cups of parmesan on the side, which I had already added before I thought to take a picture (yes, I murder my pizza with parmesan cheese), and a bottomless Coca Cola. Pure bliss. Sometimes, when I wanna splurge (and better if I'm in a mood to take home leftovers), I might order a Chocolate Chip Cookies 'n' Cream Shake. It's basically a vanilla milkshake with crumbled chocolate chip cookies in it. Pretty awesome.

Now, about that movie...

Okay, so, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is a western comedy by Seth MacFarlane and co., the gang behind the hit animated TV shows Family Guy and American Dad, the less well-liked (haven't seen it myself) Cleveland Show, and the hit feature film, "Ted". "A Million Ways to Die in the West" is about a classic "nice guy" (Seth MacFarlane) who gets dumped by his gorgeous but shallow girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for being a "loser" sheep farmer who is too cowardly to ever go through with any of the gunfights he often finds himself in by accident. Oh, and this guy, whose name is Albert Stark, also happens to HATE living in the old west. He's mostly a pretty modern-thinking guy who just doesn't fit in with the 19th century lifestyle and mindset. What he hates the most though, is how dangerous it is to live in the west. People literally get killed around him every few minutes, because it's just that dangerous.

Shortly after he drowns his sorrows with his best friend, Edward, a virgin who happens to be dating a prostitute named Ruth, Albert makes friends with an attractive woman named Anna who understands his feelings about life in the west, but who is also far more skilled at dealing with it. Anna and Albert become very close over the following weeks, as Albert complains to her about the dangers of the setting and the two discuss his failed relationship with the beautiful Louise, who is now dating Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the successful owner of the town mustachery (that's a, um, fancy shop for the care and general upkeep of facial hair, which is quite a costly thing to have in the old west if you're doing it right). Anna attempts on more than one occasion to help make Louise jealous by posing as Albert's new girlfriend, and when this leads to a gunfight between Albert and Foy, who is sure to be the winner, Anna helps to train Albert while secretly sabotaging Foy. Things are worse than Albert knows, however, because Anna is actually the wife of the most dangerous outlaw in the west, Clinch Leatherwood, and when he shows up in town to retrieve his wife after pulling a job, he is not happy with what he hears about Anna and Albert. This leaves Albert with a far more dangerous duel to be concerned about, one that few men in the west could hope to win.

Ya know, I have read about how this little film has been ripped apart by critics. I've only watched one video review of it myself, the one on my usual go-to review site, and they hated it to death. Well, I gotta tell ya, I'm gonna side with the underdog on this one, if you can call it that. I mean, it didn't truly tank, it made more than its budget already. And, frankly, I had a great time at this movie.

I've heard all kinds of complaints about the film, and the writing, and rips on Seth and all that. Look, no one has more reason to dislike Seth MacFarlane than I do. At only two years my senior, he is a cartoonist who seems to have it all. Looks, power, success, fame, fortune and glory, he even has the voice of an angel. I'm half canine and only make enough money to eat 4 days a week. And I still manage to be fat. I'm still trying to get a kiss with some real tongue action. A few years ago, I developed psoriasis from the stress of trying to care for my parents when they both got cancer at the same time, and one of them didn't make it. I could go on. Believe me, I could. Seth has the life I've dreamed about, and then some, and I'm sure he's worked hard for it, don't get me wrong. In fact, I really like the guy, and I like his work, despite that I could be embroiled in jealousy right now. He is genuinely a funny, talented guy! And, ya know what else? I thought he was a kickass Oscar host! Seems like I'm the only one who felt that way, but I did! That Sound of Music skit they did during the show, that was hilarious! Seems like I was the only one who "got it" though... *grumble*

So, Seth McFarlane has had some huge success, but sometimes, I don't know, sometimes the mass public surprises me when they don't find certain things funny or entertaining, or they take them too seriously, or whatever. Don't get me wrong, "A Million Ways to Die in the West" isn't a perfect film. But, to address other complaints I've heard about it, frankly, the fact that it was a long movie didn't phase me at all. Seemed fine to me. A LOT of people are accusing the film of lazy writing. I'm not sure if they're talking about cliches here, or too much repetition of certain jokes or situations, or if they just didn't think it was good. Maybe all that... However, for the most part, I didn't have that feeling. The story is pretty simple and straight forward, yeah. Some have said the whole movie is just a lot of quick jokes, one after the other, with no plot. That's a stupid thing to say, and I'm surprised by some of the people I've heard that from. There's a plot. I already went over it. It's simple, it may not be groundbreaking, it's romantic comedy stuff, and, really, I don't get the reaction it's getting! I'm kinda overwhelmed with things to address here... I think I need to get my bearings for a second...

Okay, so, yeah, this film is similar to an episode of Family Guy in the comedic style. However, it is not constantly cutting to joke after joke without moving any kind of plot, like some have said. It does have jokes, they are NATURALLY similar to the kind of thing you'd see in Family Guy in how they are done, but they are still tied into the film and far less random. In fact, most have to do with the film's title, as you might expect. I mean, if you don't think you're gonna find that sorta thing funny, don't go see the film. If you enjoy Family Guy, and not just the early episodes, then you should enjoy this. I know, some people hate that stuff. That doesn't make those people any better, they just like a different type of humor. Personally, I like a lot of different types of humor, and not all the jokes in this film were winners for me, but most were. This was a funny film. However, it had its problems. Let me just get right into some complaints I sort of agree with, starting with the explaining of jokes. 

Some have said that this film has a problem of explaining every joke. EVERY SINGLE JOKE. Well, honestly, NO. They do that like three times, and yes, it's a mistake. They shouldn't do it. The one at the end, that one maybe could work, because the explanation was a joke in itself, but the previous times, yeah, they didn't need to explain the jokes like the one about not smiling in pictures or, I forget the other one, but that was unnecessary and it sort of killed the humor of it. So, yeah, that did happen, but not to the extent that some say. The other sloppy mistake with the comedy writing/directing/editing was with two other scenes in particular. One involved Anna sticking a flower in the exposed but of her unconscious husband. This could have been funny, but it was not edited or shot right. They shouldn't have shown what she was doing until after it was done. Seeing her pic the flower and place it in the butt ruined the punchline, which was seeing the flower sticking out of his butt. This, I'm sure, sounds weird if you haven't seen the movie. The other scene where they badly needed to change things was when Albert is hiding out by laying on the ground in the middle of his flock of sheep. One of the sheep pees on him. When they did that, the decided to show the sheep penis and then actually show it peeing, and then show Albert's face getting peed on. Look, this kind of toilet humor can be funny when you do it right. Don't show the penis. Just show Albert looking up and reacting to something he is seeing, and then his face getting peed on. It is somehow less funny to see the penis. Comedy just doesn't work that way. I know, Seth, you are way more successful than I am, but I still am pretty sure I'm right about these few things. 

Other complaints I've heard, seriously, I think it's just a matter of personal taste in jokes. I found most everything else funny. Maybe not as hilarious as MacFarlane's animated shows, but definitely enough to enjoy this silly comedy. Of course, Neil Patrick Harris was a highlight. Amanda Seyfried was fine but didn't do a lot, but I am always happy to see her, and I really related to the whole plot about Seth's character and Amanda's, so I appreciated it all the more because of that. Truly, I was concerned about MacFarlane having the starring role in a film. While I enjoy his work and admit that I'd kill to look like him, ha, I did always feel he lacked something in terms of personality for acting roles like this, and it seemed like a lack of expression in his eyes or something. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I think he did a fine job, as did Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast. As for the cameos in the film, yeah, the quality of those was all over the place, but there are two that are real wins. The first is obvious and gets a big audience reaction. I've heard that it is spoiled in trailers for the film, but I haven't seen that trailer if that's the case. The other is the very last bit of the film (don't remember if it preceded or interrupted the end credits, but there was a bit more of it after the credits).

Look, the bottom line is that if you are a hardcore MacFarlane fan, you are going to probably really enjoy this. If you are finicky about his stuff, it's anyone's guess. A lot of people don't like later Family Guy and say this is similar to that. I say this is a fun, sweet, and harmless comedy that I enjoyed throughout and look forward to seeing again on Blu-Ray. Because, yes, I liked it enough to buy it at some point. And I very rarely even pay to see comedies on the big screen these days. At the current ticket prices, I often only go to stuff I'm super psyched about. Usually superhero movies or Disney fantasies, or something else where I can see where all the millions of dollars went. I thought this one looked worthwhile, even after I heard all the negative talk about it, and I wasn't disappointed. It's not Blazing Saddles, but then few films are. It falls in line with most comedies I enjoy that come in short of the really top tier stuff. It's not an instant classic, but it's still a fun movie, and sometimes that's just what you're looking for. 

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