X-Men: DayS of Future Past

Remember when Nixon killed the Sentinel program that would’ve rid the world of mutants? No? I guess that got lost amongst coverage of Watergate, Vietnam, etc.

Time travel is such a gimmicky plot device. But without it, we wouldn’t have X-Men: Days of Future Past, a film with incredibly good special effects. X-Men: Days of Future Past has its flaws, but I’m guessing most X-Men fans will forgive director Bryan Singer for those sins (as well as for his alleged personal sins).

After robotic Sentinels threaten to wipe out all mutants—even those with strong supernatural abilities—as well as normal humans, desperate measures must be taken. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 derail the program.

Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) guides Logan in his time travel, conjuring up memories of Inception. After arriving back in the day and gracing the screen with his naked backside, Logan meets up with Xavier’s younger self (James McAvoy). They work to spring the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from his prison beneath the Pentagon.

The facts that McAvoy does not look a bit like Patrick Stewart and Fassbender only vaguely resembles the present day Magneto (Ian McKellan) must be overlooked. Also, if the Sentinel program had been authorized in 1973, wouldn’t it have decimated the mutant population way before now?

Meanwhile, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) pushes to have the US produce Sentinels to eliminate the world’s mutants. In a ceremony on the White House lawn, Tricky Dick is about to give thumbs up to the program. When Magneto uses his powers to move RFK Stadium and set it down surrounding the White House, the ceremony is halted and the climactic battle ensues. (Apparently, RFK was moved back in time for the Redskins’ 1973 season.)

While certain of the mutants get limited screen time, here are key players among those featured. As Mystique/Raven, Jennifer Lawrence shows that she is without a doubt the most versatile actor/actress in movies today. And as Hank/Beast, Nicholas Hoult shows his fine acting range. As Peter/Quicksilver, Evan Peters thrills with incredible speed (and a sense of humor).

Also worth mentioning is the mutant Blink, if only because of the actress’s wonderful name, Bingbing Fan. President Nixon is played by Mark Comacho, who actually resembles the Trickster, but is a bit heavier.

With a good balance of exposition/character development versus battles/awesome effects, X-Men: Days of Future Past, adds another winner to the Marvel movie list. Grab your 3-D glasses and get in line now!

Jack, the Giant Slayer

Je ne sais quoi is a famous French phrase meaning “I don’t know what.” It’s used when you know something, but you can’t accurately describe it.

What’s missing from Jack, the Giant Slayer? It’s hard to say. Je ne sais quoi.

Jack, the Giant Slayer has a stellar cast, cool effects and a classic story (with some fresh tweaks). The trailers and TV spots look great. But the movie lacks that certain something—something that would make it a “must see.” Je ne sais quoi.

As it begins, JTGS looks like a family flick for all ages. A bedtime story is shared in separate scenes with a young boy and a young girl. The boy grows up to be Jack. The girl becomes princess Isabelle. Jack goes to town, meets the princess, gets the magic beans and the story takes off. In short order, so does the beanstalk.

Jack is played by Nicholas Hoult, who was tremendous as R in the recent Warm Bodies. Isabelle is played by the gorgeous Eleanor Tomlinson. Ian McShane is the king and Ewan McGregor (good guy) and Stanley Tucci (bad guy) are members of the king’s court. Eddie Marsan, who is becoming one of my favorite character actors, also has a small role.

As the story develops, so does the violence. The reasons for the PG-13 rating become obvious. The battles between the earthbound residents and the giants from the sky are epic. The film’s climax is especially well conceived. The 3-D is good, if not great. Still, there’s something needed to make this film special. Je ne sais quoi.

When you spend $185 million to make a movie, you should deliver a bit more magic to the screen than JTGS does. While the film’s accomplishments do amount to more than, pardon the expression, a hill of beans, I was expecting to be dazzled.

Jack, the Giant Slayer is a good, solid, well-made film. You will not walk out of the theater grumbling that you were ripped off. But it falls short of classic. I wish I could tell you exactly why. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. Je ne sais… oh, you know.

Warm Bodies

A zombie romantic comedy? Well, yes. And an entertaining one, too!

Warm Bodies owes its charm to its central character R, played by Nicholas Hoult. He’s a zombie who has the ability to be objective about his plight. (We learn his thoughts via voiceover.)

He finds humor in the slow, plodding gait of his fellow zombies (and himself). He chuckles inwardly about the vague grunts that pass for communication among the walking dead. He also reveals that he is lonely.

When a group of normal humans (who live within a fortified enclave, following the vague event that has decimated civilization) venture out and encounter zombies, the results are not good. The zombies launch a ruthless attack, but R chooses to spare one young woman named Julie, played by Teresa Palmer.

He does eat her boyfriend’s brain, which causes him to experience the late boyfriend’s memories, many of which are about Julie. (Don’t worry about the brain eating scenes; this is not a gross-out movie.)

After Julie escorts him back to the abandoned jetliner he lives (okay, exists) in, his attempts to communicate his affection are best delivered by songs he plays on old vinyl LPs.

Eventually he leads her back to the enclave and, later, manages to slip within the walls himself. This sets up the climax involving the zombies, the even more ruthless skeletal zombies and the normal humans. The leader of the normals, played by John Malkovich, is also Julie’s father.

Warm Bodies (rated PG-13) is a lightweight film targeted to young adults and teens. It’s also okay for most pre-teens, despite its low-level gore and violence. This movie’s slugline could be “zombies are people, too,” as R is revealed to have human emotions despite his condition.

I don’t consider it a spoiler to mention that the film has some parallels with a famous classic play about a certain “R & J,” but Warm Bodies has a much gentler ending.