Sean K. Cureton

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

The First Great Film of 2011

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on June 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Theatrical Poster

Directed by Mike Mills
4 out of 4 stars

So far, this summer has offered some of the best film releases in succession in a long time, and Mike Mills’ new film Beginners keeps the chain going. Set up as your average romantic drama, Mills’ new film offers you insight into the characters involved within the relationship that is simply lacking in most other romantic dramas of the past few years. It is simply one of the most human pieces of film making that this reviewer has seen in a long time.

The film’s story follows the plights of protagonist Oliver, played superbly by Ewan McGregor, whose life is left in a shambles after the abrupt death of his father, played by Christopher Plummer, who only shortly before dying revealed to Oliver that he was gay. This fractured relationship between Oliver and his father influences how Oliver interacts with the world around him, whether it be at parties with his peers or at work, and eventually, with his new girlfriend Anna, played by Melanie Laurent.

What soon becomes apparent in the film is the fact that Oliver, who never felt very close to his father growing up, feels even more estranged from him as he becomes closer to him in his final months, and as he watches him be truly in love with a young man, whereas he was never truly in love with Oliver’s mother. The fact that his father never loved his mother is not news to Oliver, but the fact that he had been living a lie with her that whole time causes Oliver to question every one of his own feelings and impulses as well, which causes for a rather stressful relationship with Anna.

The way in which Mills is able to tell this story is what makes this film truly great. Using a non-linear story arch, Mills is able to hop between the story of Oliver’s father’s last months alive, Oliver and Anna’s budding romance, and Oliver’s relationship with his mother as a child. These three arches are thus able to intermingle with one another to better show the underpinnings within Oliver’s psyche that have created him into the person he has become with Anna and to explain his own actions within the relationship.

By creating such a brilliant cast of characters, whose individual personalities are examined in such close detail, director Mike Mills has been able to create the first truly perfect film of 2011. The romance that is the center of the film is real, and the protagonist involved within the romance feels even more so. Bottom line, Beginners is a film that you don’t want you or anyone you know to miss.


X-Men: Inaccurate First Class

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on June 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Theatrical Poster

X-Men: First Class
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
2 out of 4 stars

At the beginning of the new X-Men film, there is a sequence that many fans of this series may recognize from the first X-Men film of 2000. This sequence is set in a Nazi concentration camp in the 40’s, and focuses on how Magneto’s parents were stolen from him by the Nazi campaign, and how this traumatic experience played a large part in shaping Magneto into the villain that he becomes later on in life. This sequence was almost identical to the opening sequence in Bryan Singer’s X-Men, which was a nice way to both pay homage to the best film adapter of this series, while at the same time allowing for a complete reboot of the series without completely forgetting what made the first two films in the series so great.

Unfortunately, from there, the film fails to prove itself to be a worthy successor to the first two films of the series. While this movie was certainly satisfying in its own right, it failed to deliver in more ways than one. For starters, it did not contain the original team that Bryan Singer, who was one of five writers on this film, had promised. Originally when this film was first announced, Singer had said that the idea would be to take the original comic book series, and use that story line almost entirely. In other words, the heroes, or the X-Men, would consist of Professor X, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Archangel, and Ice Man. However, in the film, the “First Class” contained Professor X, Mystique, Beast, Darwin, Angel(not to be confused with Archangel), Havok, and Banshee. In other words, the writers of X-Men: First Class promised the original X-Men team, which would have been great, and chose to simply not deliver. Instead, they took a couple of characters from the entire comic book series that they liked, and made up a storyline where they were the “First Class.”

Given the fact the “First Class” was so inaccurate, the plot was also obviously not directly inspired by the mythology of the original comic series. Instead of strictly focusing on the rivalry between Professor X and Magneto, which while having been done before would have been interesting given that this movie could have told the story of the start of this rivalry, X-Men: First Class instead chooses to create a plot where the Hellfire Club is the primary adversary to the X-Men. While this decision did allow for great performances from Kevin Bacon as the head of the Hellfire Club, and January Jones as his dangerous seductress, the plot was ultimately too much of a departure from the original comic series, which is what was promised in the first place.

Despite the fact that this film was a disappointment in terms of its connection to the source material, it did offer some of the best character moments this film series has seen since 2003’s X-Men 2: X-Men United. In particular, X-Men: First Class was able to deliver a satisfying portrayal of Beast, who is a part of the actual original X-Men team. Unlike Brett Ratner’s horrid incarnation of the character in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, this time around, Beast is given a proper introduction, and more importantly, his origin story is told in full, and for the most part accurately. More importantly, actor Nicholas Hoult, who starred in the wonderful British drama television series Skins, provides a great performance as Beast that was simply not to be found in Kelsey Grammer’s interpretation of the character in 2006.

This film also provides the best story for the X-Men universe since X-Men 2. Set during the 1960’s,(one of the few accuracies from comic to screen in this installment) this film pits the X-Men in a fight to stop Kevin Bacon’s character from starting World War 3, all while trying to figure out just what the X-Men should be all about in the first place, thus the title First Class.

Overall, Matthew Vaughn was able to deliver the best X-Men film since Bryan Singer left the franchise in 2003. That being said, it also was not a great film, in that it did not live up to what was promised. By not focusing on the original comic book team, the “First Class” of this film ends up feeling like a recycled team from the last two X-Men movies, which is not a good thing at all. While the plot was good, it also was held back by the fact that it was not inspired by any of the comic plot lines, but was invented most probably by movie studio execs who wanted to see certain X-Men that had not been put on film before. While X-Men: First Class is definitely better than the last two films in the series, the fact is that almost anything would have been better than Ratner’s fiasco and X-Men Origins: Wolverine’s blandness. Bottom line, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men could have been worse, but it also could have been better. A lot better.

Dreamworks Finds a New Shrek in Kung Fu Panda 2

In Movie Reviews: 2011 on June 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Theatrical Poster

Kung Fu Panda 2
Directed by Jennifer Yuh
3 ½ out of 4 stars

In 2008, when Kung Fu Panda came out, no one knew exactly what to expect. The ad campaign was very simplistic. The poster didn’t reveal anything about the plot except for the fact that Jack Black was lending his voice to the title character, and all anyone really knew about the film was that it would be another Dreamworks production. When the film hit theatres, many people were taken aback by how original and funny the film actually was. Despite the fact that martial arts based films have been done again and again, Kung Fu Panda didn’t feel like any other films of its shared genre. Instead, it offered an engaging, if somewhat predictable, plot with voice talents that really breathed life into the animated world that Dreamworks had created. With such a successful first film, the next step for Dreamworks was obviously to make another movie within the same world using the same characters. Typically, sequels are bad, clunky, and fail to live up to the first film in the series. That being said, it’s always nice when a sequel surpasses the standards set by the film that preceded it.

With Kung Fu Panda 2, Dreamworks has continued the story they started in the first film while maintaining and expanding on the characters and the world that they inhabit. This time around, Po, the titular character, finds out about his past, and takes on Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman, who attempted to kill all of the pandas in China after a soothsayer tells him that he would be defeated by a warrior of black and white. Again, Dreamworks takes a fairly standard martial arts plot line, that of a warrior avenging the genocide of his people, and turns it on its head and makes the whole thing feel new and wonderful. It also doesn’t hurt that the film is also laugh-out-loud funny, and sentimentally genuine and touching.

The film also boasts some of the best animation work that Dreamworks has done since the Shrek franchise. All of the environments in the film are so bright and vibrant and continually engrossing for the viewer. Beyond that, the CGI animation that is used throughout most of the film is also interspersed with beautiful hand drawn sequences meant to alert the audience to the flash backs that take place within the film’s plot.

All in all, Kung Fu Panda 2 is just as surprising as its predecessor, in that it too is surprisingly great and engrossing. The actors who were around to lend their voices the first time return, and pick up right where they left off with the first film. If you still haven’t seen 2008’s Kung Fu Panda, order it from Netflix, watch it, and then go to see Kung Fu Panda 2. You won’t be disappointed.