X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – A Hit But No Home Run

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X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-2014Movie Review: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
By
Michael Arruda

I really enjoyed X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), the film that chronicled the early relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), the two characters who would become Professor Xavier and Magneto in the X-MEN universe. In fact, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is one of my favorite superhero movies.

So, it goes without saying, I was excited and eager to see X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the latest in the Marvel X-MEN series, a film which through the magic of time travel would unite characters from FIRST CLASS with the characters from the previous X-Men films, an anchoring both time periods would be the most iconic of the film X-Men, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

How could such a perfect premise go wrong? How indeed!

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST opens in the near future when the Sentinels, an army of robots, are at war with both the mutants and the humans, and it’s a war that the Sentinels are winning. It is learned that the Sentinels are unstoppable because back in 1973, their creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) obtained the DNA of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and used it on his robots, giving them the ability to replicate and take on the form of their opponents, in effect using the mutants’ own powers against them.

Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to convince their younger selves to put aside their differences and stop Mystique from falling into Trask’s hands, all in an effort to save the future. They are able to do this through a new special ability possessed by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), and it is Pride who transports Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 where it enters his body there so that he can find both the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

So Wolverine returns to 1973 and the time travel game is afoot.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say up front that I was disappointed with X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. I expected this one to be a home run, a classic, the best of the series, but it’s not. Is it a bad movie? No. It’s just a mediocre one.

First and foremost, its time travel adventure isn’t really all that exciting. It gets stuck on its one central plot point and never seems to move beyond it. The mission is clear: Wolverine and friends must stop Dr. Trask from getting Mystique’s DNA. This simple plot point needed something else, some complications to take the story to the next level. It fails to do this.

Magneto, for example, being Magneto, has an agenda of his own, and I was eager to see where this sinister side would take the story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take the story very far, as his agenda isn’t all that ambitious and sadly doesn’t amount to much.

For a time travel story, it’s nowhere near as playful or as creative as it needs to be. While there are a few moments here and there— such as when Wolverine pokes fun at Beast’s comment that they have “three main TV channels plus PBS”— there are not enough of them.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are two dynamic actors who dominated X-MEN FIRST CLASS and drove that movie along. They’re very good here once again, but in a larger cast, they have less to do and simply don’t have as prominent a role in the proceedings as they did in the earlier movie.

Hugh Jackman, who in the past has nailed the role of Wolverine and made it his own, is somewhat more down to earth here and doesn’t seem to possess the same energy or spark he has demonstrated in earlier portrayals.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the most talented actresses working today, is completely wasted here as Mystique. She really doesn’t get to do anything which allows her to show off her acting talents.

While I was happy to see Patrick Stewart back as Professor Xavier, and Ian McKellen as Magneto, neither one is in this movie all that much, and both seem old and tired. The majority of the original X-Men cast are featured in nothing more than glorified cameos.

I did enjoy Nicholas Hoult as Beast, reprising the role from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and he fares better in these movies than he did in WARM BODIES (2013) and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).

Stealing the movie however is Evan Peters as Quicksilver, the mutant who possesses incredible speed. The scene where Quicksilver helps Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast break Magneto out of his prison cell deep beneath the Pentagon is by far the best scene in the movie. It’s really too bad that Quicksilver was featured in this movie so briefly.

Director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies, does an okay job here. The film looks fine, but other than the aforementioned Quicksilver scene, there really aren’t any other memorable scenes in this movie, action or otherwise.

Probably the weakest link of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the screenplay by Simon Kinberg. Oddly, Kinberg wrote the screenplay for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), largely considered to be the worst in the series. Why he would be asked to pen this latest film is beyond me. I didn’t really enjoy the story to this one, as it never moved beyond its central plot point about Mystique’s DNA, and it never offered creative diversions and pathways which could have lifted its story to higher levels. It also didn’t really take advantage of its time travel storyline. In terms of creativity, it’s all pretty standard.

The buzz is out there: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is one of the best superhero movies ever made, a topnotch summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it this way.

Rather, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an okay superhero movie that features a very talented cast working beneath their potential for the simple reason that the material they’re working with, the story, isn’t up to snuff.

The scenes in the future are stagnant. The scenes in the past are ordinary. And the two never really meet to any degree of satisfaction.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST may be a hit at the box office, but it’s not the home run it should have been.

—END—

 

THE HORROR JAR: Movies starring PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, and VINCENT PRICE

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Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), the second and last time they would all appear in one movie together.

Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), the second and last time they would all appear in one movie together.

THE HORROR JAR: Movies Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price
By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature various lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all share birthdays in May: Cushing on May 26 and both Lee and Price on May 27.

To celebrate the birthdays of these three horror icons, here’s a list of movies in which all three stars, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price appeared together. It’s a brief list, since it only happened twice:

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)
An Amicus Production
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Screenplay by Christopher Wicking, based on the novel The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon
Dr. Browning: Vincent Price
Fremont: Christopher Lee
Benedek: Peter Cushing
Running Time: 95 minutes

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983)
Directed by Peter Walker
Screenplay by Michael Armstrong based on the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
Lionel Grisbane: Vincent Price
Corrigan: Christopher Lee
Sebastian Grisbane: Peter Cushing
Lord Grisbane: John Carradine
Running Time: 100 minutes

Sadly, neither of these movies is very good. But you can’t beat the cast!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

What I’m Reading: Z – A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD By Therese Anne Fowler

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Zelda FitzgeraldWhat I’m Reading – Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald By Therese Anne Fowler
Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

I often read in themes.

Last year, I taught a unit on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to a class of high school sophomores. This combined with the 2013 film THE GREAT GATSBY starring Leonardo Di Caprio, got me in the mood to read more Fitzgerald, and so I read Tender Is The Night  considered by many to be Fitzgerald’s most autobiographical novel.

Now comes Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, a fictional account of the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott, who often is cited as being the ruin of her famous husband.

Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald paints a sympathetic portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald, and in this meticulously researched work of historical fiction, author Therese Anne Fowler takes the stance that more often than not, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who incurred the majority of the damage in their troubled relationship, and it was Fitzgerald who actually held his wife back and ruined her career.

Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald opens with a teenage Zelda living in the Deep South—Montgomery, Alabama—with her large southern family, under the guiding hand of her patriarch father, the judge. When Zelda meets Scott, he is an officer in the army, on his way to serve in Europe in the Great War. Even during these early years, Scott is teeming with confidence and tells Zelda he’s going to be one of the greatest American authors. They fall in love, much against her father’s wishes, who sees life as an author as a poor career, one that will not be able to support his daughter. But they will have to wait, as Scott is about to be shipped off to Europe.

During these early scenes, Fowler really brings the courtship of these two young lovers to life. Take this scene, for example, where Zelda and Scott dance for the first time:

He danced as well as any of my partners ever had- better, maybe. It seemed to me that the energy I was feeling that night had infused him, too; we glided through the waltz as if we’d been dancing together for years.

I liked his starched, woolly, cologne smell. His height, about five inches taller than my five feet four inches, was, I thought, the exact right height. His shoulders were the exact right width. His grip on my hand was somehow both formal and familiar, his hand on my waist both possessive and tentative. His blue-green eyes were clear, yet mysterious, and his lips curved just slightly upward.

The result of all this was that although we danced well together, I felt off-balance the entire time. I wasn’t used to this feeling, but, my goodness, I liked it.

 

Fate intervenes, as the Great War is suddenly over, and Scott is spared going off to battle. In a state of jubilation, Scott proposes to Zelda, promising her a wonderful life, eager to whisk her off to New York City for a grand time, one that she could never have imagined before. Seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to leave her southern rural life behind, Zelda agrees. She and Scott marry, and the next thing she knows she’s living in the greatest city in the world, New York.

Zelda and Scott begin their life together on top of the world. Zelda is absolutely flabbergasted by everything in New York City, and she and Scott are head over heels in love with each other.

The buildings, the people, the noise of engines and whistles and voices, the commotion of cars clattering past! I glanced at my sister; she looked frightened. I laughed and said, “I might never leave!”

But when the entry and front spires of St. Patrick’s came into view, my eyes filled with tears. I’d never seen a structure that was at once so ornate and so serene. The sight- the complexity of architecture, the graceful, intricately carved spires towering over the street, inlaid with smaller intricately carved spires, all of them topped by crosses- literally stole my breath. No wonder the woman at the station had looked impressed.

The thought of being married in this church felt overwhelming, but fitting, too; I was convinced that ours was no ordinary union. Scott was no ordinary fiancé. How, though, had he engineered this?

 

And Scott even manages to make good on his promise to support her through his writing. His short stories sell with regularity, to great critical acclaim, and even better, for top dollar. His early novels, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, and The Great Gatsby also sell well, and money is not a problem for Scott and Zelda.

In this scene, Zelda and Scott spot a display of his novel in Scribner’s bookstore:

The window display featured a number of books individually. Copies of Scott’s, though, had been built into a pyramid that dominated the display. In front of the pyramid was a sign:

At only twenty-three years of age, Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald is the youngest writer for whom Scribner’s have ever published a novel.

I said, “Is that true?”

Scott nodded.

“This is my husband’s book!” I shouted, pointing to the display. Passersby smiled. I turned to Scott and said, just to him, “And this is my husband.”

They become almost drunk with success.

“Are we rich?” I asked.

“We are unstoppable.”

Not quite. Scott and Zelda live way beyond their means, attending one social event after another, spending money on whatever they want, living the highlife, and consuming alcohol, plenty of alcohol. Scott even receives offers from Hollywood, where the real money is, and it seems for a time that they will be unstoppable. Even better, they become national celebrities, trend setters, and it seems the entire nation knows Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

But then the rejections start. Scott’s Hollywood scripts are turned down, and suddenly he finds himself suffering from massive writer’s block, as he can’t seem to finish his next novel. They move to Europe, where they socialize in a literary circle unheralded before this time. Scott meets Ernest Hemingway, who he sees as a younger author who he would like to mentor, but according to Zelda, he spends too much time helping Hemingway instead of his own works.

With Scott seemingly completely focused on Hemingway, Zelda begins to feel alone and ignored, and she seeks attention elsewhere. The pattern begins, an extramarital affair, depression, illness, Scott’s deepening alcoholism, and soon what was heaven is now hell.
Zelda tries her turn at writing, and she publishes several short stories, all of which she’s told by Scott and his agent must be published with both her name and Scott’s in the byline, as they wouldn’t sell without Scott’s name, even though Scott did not write them. Eventually, her name is dropped and only Scott’s remains, even though again, she wrote the story.

When Zelda is committed to a sanitarium, the doctors there tell her not to write anymore, because that will only upset her, and Scott agrees. She grows distant from her daughter Scottie, who grows closer to her father.

In this story, there are no happy endings. As Zelda fights to regain her mental health, she dreams of getting back together with Scott, who has professed to her that in spite of everything, he will never leave her, but at the age of 44, he does just that, dying of a heart attack, leaving Zelda alone. She lives the rest of her life in and out of sanitariums, and it is in a sanitarium that she dies, in a fire.

Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is a compelling read, mostly because Fowler has done such a masterful job of telling the story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald that it practically plays like fact. She captures the lives of these two flamboyant personalities so naturally and with such confident ease that it’s easy to accept these things as true.

The early scenes profiling Zelda’s infatuation with New York City are particularly effective. Fowler also does a fine job showing how much Zelda and Scott love each other, setting up the reader for the emotional toil of having to read the details of when it all goes downhill and falls apart. Then there’s Ernest Hemingway, portrayed here as a manipulative predator, who’s kind and accepting of Zelda until she rejects his sexual advances.

In an Afterward, author Fowler explains that she wrote this interpretation of the Fitzgeralds based on exhaustive research, and it shows, although she admits it’s difficult to find the truth, as the two sides, Scott’s on the one, and Zelda’s on the other, both blame each other for the other’s problems. Fowler writes that she based most of her story on what she found in the letters written by Scott and Zelda.

My favorite part is that Fowler depicts in Zelda and Scott a complicated relationship that at its core is held together by a love that neither one of the two ever wanted to see end. Through it all, the alcohol, the extra marital affairs, the writing struggles, the bouts with mental illness, Scott and Zelda never stopped loving each other, and it’s this central theme that Fowler keeps throughout the novel that makes the eventual ending all the more sad and tragic.

In spite of their problems, they truly loved each other.

Near the end, Zelda is devastated by one reviewer’s reference to her work as “the work of a wife,” that after all these years of trying to make it in the world on her own, she has never been able to get out of the shadow of her husband Scott, and that her legacy, how she will be remembered in the world, will be as the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s at this point in the story that Zelda pretty much gives up.

Time magazine ran a review and had found a label for me: Work of a Wife, read the headline, and despite the praise that followed in the body of the review, I felt myself deflating.

That was it. W-I-F-E, my entire identity defined by the four letters I’d been trying for five years to overcome.

Why was it that every time I finally chose, every time I did, my efforts failed- I failed- so miserably? Why was I so completely unable to take control of my own life? Was there any point to it, for me? I’d thought it was Scott I’d been fighting against, but now I wondered if it was Fate.

When I was young, I’d believed that it would be awful to try and try and try at something only to find that you could never succeed. Now I knew I’d been right: I was not a sufficient dancer, or writer, or painter, or wife, or mother. I was nothing at all.

Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler is a fascinating chronicle of one of America’s most celebrated literary couples, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, seen through the eyes of Zelda. They lived their own version of Gatsby, fighting for a lost dream, and like Jay Gatsby, constantly struggled to repeat the past, to reclaim a past that they viewed as ideal, a battle that like the famous literary character they ultimately lost.

It’s a sad tragic tale brought to vivid life by Fowler’s sharp and insightful prose.

A highly recommended read.

—END—-

 

GODZILLA (2014) – The King of the Monsters Deserves Better

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Godzilla 2014 poster 2 THE HORROR: GODZILLA (2014)

Horror Movie Review by Michael Arruda

 

He’s the King of the Monsters, and has been since he debuted in his first feature film 60 years ago in 1954. I’m talking of course about Godzilla, and he’s back on the big screen in GODZILLA (2014), a stylish reboot by director Gareth Edwards.

For some, this movie is being hailed as one of the best in the series, a phenomenal motion picture that deserves four stars. For me, it’s an okay giant monster movie that in spite of the creative talents of its director, suffers from a lackluster story, dull characters, and way too little of the main star— and I’m not talking about Bryan Cranston.

I’m talking about Godzilla. The King of the Monsters just might need a new agent after this one.

GODZILLA opens in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) send their young son off to school and then head off to work at the local nuclear power plant. On this fateful day, there is a nuclear accident and Sandra is killed.
The action switches to present day, where the adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned to his family after a tour in the military, but before he can even settle back in with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, he receives word that his father has been arrested in Japan. Ford decides to go off to Japan to help his dad.

To Ford’s dismay, he learns that his father is obsessed with trying to prove that the nuclear accident which killed his mother was not the result of a natural disaster but of something else that the government is covering up. Of course, it turns out that Joe Brody is correct, that there has been a major cover-up, that the true cause of the disaster was a giant monster called the MUTO, an acronym for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.

There are two MUTO, a male and a female, and they are a threat to the world, which is why suddenly Godzilla emerges from the depths of the ocean to defeat these monsters, to make things right. Who knew Godzilla was so thoughtful?

While the strength of any Godzilla movie has never been its story, I thought the plot to this latest GODZILLA movie was considerably lame. The reason for Godzilla’ appearance is all right, and admittedly it’s consistent with a lot of his appearances in the Toho films, in that he shows up to defeat the bad monsters and save the world, but this was mostly the case in the silly Toho films from the 1960s and 1970s.

In the Toho Godzilla movies from the 1990s and 2000s, Godzilla was a bit more menacing, and so I expected more from this 2014 film in terms of Godzilla. Not that Godzilla is back to his silly superhero self. He’s not. He’s rather scary looking here. However, he doesn’t do much in this film that makes him frightening to humans. In fact, the military spares him throughout, since they’re constantly advised by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) that Godzilla might be their best bet to defeat the MUTO. I found the military’s easy acceptance of this theory farfetched.

The best Godzilla movies are the ones where you’re not too sure about Godzilla. He’s fighting those bad monsters, sure, but he’s destroying cities and killing people, too. In this movie, Godzilla comes off like the savior of the world. I almost expected to see a halo around his head.

Godzilla’s screen time is also limited. No surprise, since director Gareth Edwards did the same thing with his earlier monster movie MONSTERS (2010), a stylish film that skimped on the monster scenes. Similarly, Edwards does some stylish things in GODZILLA, but Godzilla and the MUTO monsters are featured minimally.

The screenplay by Max Borenstein is disjointed and uninspiring. Its multiple storylines never quite seem to gel with each other, and there isn’t one strong narrative holding it all together, mostly because the main storyline is nothing special. Strangely, the Godzilla plot seems to be the least important part of the entire movie, playing second fiddle to the MUTO and the Aaron-Taylor Johnson storylines. The Bryan Cranston subplot is not much more than an afterthought.

Bryan Cranston is a terrific actor, and he could have been the glue that held this narrative together, but he’s simply not in it enough. His role is very, very small.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody is rather dull, largely because we never really get inside his head. He’s putting his life on the line to stop Godzilla and the MUTO, while also trying to get back to his family, yet he doesn’t seem scared at all. He should be terrified.

Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle does seem terrified, and when she’s frightened, she’s very good, but that’s about all she does in this movie, act afraid.

Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa gets some of the worst lines in the movie, delivering such simple utterances as “Godzilla must fight the MUTO,” and “Godzilla will save us.” And the camera always seems to be closing in on his face for some dramatic revelation, but all he has to say is silly nonsense like “Let them fight.”

David Strathairn, who I usually like, is wasted here as Admiral William Stenz. He’s one of the more ineffective military leaders you’ll see in a monster movie. The monsters are running rampant destroying cities left and right, and Strathairn’s Admiral is in his command center listening to Dr. Serizawa utter his absurd lines of dialogue.

And while the CGI effects look good, I wasn’t blown away by them. I thought Godzilla looked decent, but honestly, he didn’t look any better than the man-in-suit TOHO films from the 90s and 2000s.

I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I did see it in 3D, and I wasn’t impressed with the 3D effects at all.

GODZILLA never drew me in to a level of fear or suspense or even excitement where I was psyched to see the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTO. We continually see the monster stuff happening from a distance without getting in close, and I just didn’t get the sense of the human fear, loss of life, and destruction. Director Edwards’ idea of showing us the destruction caused by the monsters is a headline scrolling across the bottom of a television newscast saying “Honolulu destroyed. Thousands missing.” In terms of effective storytelling, that just doesn’t cut it for me.

But I do like Edwards’ style when he does decide to show us things. Godzilla’s first appearance is a good one, although it’s brief. I thought the sequence on the train where Aaron Taylor-Johnson has to save a young boy while the monsters are attacking all around them was effective, as was another scene involving a train, when the military is transferring a bomb across a fog shrouded bridge and the MUTO attacks them.

I also liked the attack scene on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So, there were moments I definitely liked. But there just weren’t enough of them.

This combined with a lack of Godzilla, no interesting characters other than Bryan Cranston’s brief role, and a mediocre story that never wowed me, made GODZILLA a major disappointment for me, an uneven film that failed to make me forget the TOHO productions which inspired it.

The King of the Monsters deserves better.
—END—

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

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Peter Cushing as Dr. Stein about to reveal his latest creation to his young assistant Hans (Francis Matthews) in the Hammer Film THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

Peter Cushing as Dr. Stein about to reveal his latest creation to his young assistant Hans (Francis Matthews) in the Hammer Film THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)

Here’s a picture from Hammer’s second Frankenstein movie, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).

This film has always lived in the shadow of its predecessor, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), and it’s rarely listed by fans as one of Hammer’s best, but I’ve always liked this movie, and Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances as Baron Frankenstein here, this time going by the alias “Dr. Stein” since the world believes Baron Frankenstein is dead.

In this photo, Dr. Stein (Peter Cushing) has placed his right hand on the tarp behind him and is just about to remove it to reveal to his young assistant Hans (Francis Matthews) the unborn body of his latest creation.

Stein had just been showing Hans around his laboratory, in particular an experiment involving a brain, eyes, and a hand, and Hans is astounded and says that Stein should be proud of this accomplishment. Stein dismisses this praise, lamenting the limits of what he has been able to do so far.

He asks Hans if he knows why Victor Frankenstein was condemned to death, and Hans says of course, that everyone knows, that he created a man who became a monster, to which Stein responds:

“I built him to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged—.”

And then, “I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me.”

Stein pauses, and just before removing the tarp, says, “This is something I am proud of.”

And then he reveals his latest unborn creation to the movie audience.

Many fans have complained that they don’t understand what the revenge in the title refers to, especially since Cushing does not portray the Baron as all that villainous in this movie. But the revenge in the title refers to Baron Frankenstein’s sticking it to the nonbelievers. He’s out to prove to the world that he was right the first time, that he can create life, and that the Creature in the first film was only a murderous beast because Victor’s assistant had damaged the brain.

By the way, Hans’ statement that everyone knows why Baron Frankenstein was condemned to death, because he had created a monster actually goes against the events in the first movie, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In that film, the Baron is sentenced to death on murder charges, and his claims that he’s innocent and that his Creature committed the murders falls on deaf ears because there’s no evidence, as the Creature had fallen to its death into a vat of acid, destroying its body, and the only other man to see the Creature, Victor’s former tutor turned assistant, Paul Krempe, lied to the authorities and said there was no Creature, to make sure that Victor paid the ultimate price for the atrocities he caused. So, contrary to what Hans said here, the world shouldn’t have known about Frankenstein’s Creature.

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN actually has a better budget and a more creative story than THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, but it’s nowhere near as scary, and probably the biggest problem among fans is that the monster in this one is rather wimpy, as Michael Gwynne is no Christopher Lee. Sure, Lee’s Creature is intensely frightening. But the “monster” in this film is completely consistent with the movie’s plot. He’s less frightening because Victor Frankenstein has done a better job this time. It’s a very sympathetic performance by Michael Gwynne as the Monster, but unfortunately, it’s not what movie audiences wanted.

As always, Peter Cushing is terrific as Baron Frankenstein. He does a nice job of balancing the Baron’s heroic and villainous sides in this one, and he tends to be more of a hero this time around.

It’s Peter Cushing’s birthday this month, on May 26. He would have turned 101 this year. Wow.

Enjoy the photo!

And thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

GODZILLA (2014) – Preview

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Godzilla 2014 posterGODZILLA (2014) – Preview
By Michael Arruda

GODZILLA (2014) opens in theaters today, Thursday, May 15.

Here’s a preview:

Let’s start with the cast.

With Bryan Cranston fresh off the extremely popular BREAKING BAD TV series, GODZILLA has at its center an actor who can easily anchor a story. If you’ve seen BREAKING BAD, you know what I’m talking about. He’s also lent fine support to many movies as well, so having him in the cast of GODZILLA is a huge plus.

GODZILLA also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played Kick-Ass in the hit movie KICK-ASS (2010) and in its sequel KICK-ASS 2 (2013). He also starred in the Oliver Stone thriller SAVAGES (2012), a film that wasn’t that well received, but I liked it a lot. Taylor-Johnson was especially good in it.

Then there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who I enjoyed in the otherwise awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011). The film stunk, but Olsen was good. Rounding out the cast are Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. The movie definitely has a talented cast.

It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, who also directed MONSTERS (2010), a film I wasn’t crazy about because the titled monsters didn’t really appear in the movie all that much. That being said, it was a very stylish movie, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Edwards will do with GODZILLA.

Max Borenstein wrote the screenplay, with music by Alexandre Desplat, who’s written a ton of music scores including the scores for THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), ARGO (2012) and THE KING’S SPEECH (2010).

I have high hopes for the special effects since there are enough people on the Visual Effects team to fill a dictionary.

So, the talent is there.

The trailers have looked great, and Godzilla in the brief times we’ve seen him in the trailers looks impressive.  GODZILLA has the potential to be one of the best films in the series.

The only thing now is for the actual movie to be released.  And that happens today.

Welcome back, Godzilla!

—Michael

 

Matthew McConaughey’s Dynamic Performance Drives THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)

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The Lincoln Lawyer posterBlu-ray Review: THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)
By
Michael Arruda

Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), and if you haven’t been paying attention, you might not have noticed that McConaughey has been steadily working his way through some pretty decent roles the past few years.

Take his role in THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), for example, where he plays Mick Haller, a smooth talking cooler-than-ice defense attorney who becomes the victim of an even smoother criminal.

I caught THE LINCOLN LAWYER on Blu-ray the other day, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I especially enjoyed McConaughey’s dynamic performance as the indefatigable Mick Haller. McConaughey easily carries this movie from beginning to end.

In THE LINCOLN LAWYER, defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) never met a client he didn’t like, or wouldn’t accept payment from, and he operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln town car, thus the film’s title, THE LINCOLN LAWYER. He’s none too popular with the local police department since he has a strong record of keeping even the most guilty-seeming clients out of jail.

When a young man Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating up a hooker personally asks for Haller to defend him, Mick thinks nothing of it, even though his friend and investigator-partner Frank (William H. Macy) tells him something about the guy rubs him the wrong way. But Mick is used to out-talking and outwitting everybody, so he takes on the case without fear, although he does wonder why Louis would ask for him when his mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) is exceedingly rich and powerful and has an entire legal team at her disposal.

Mick prepares his defense with the argument that Louis is the victim of a scam by the hooker and an accomplice intent on setting up Louis for the crime so they could reap the benefits of an enormous settlement.

Things play out as planned until Frank uncovers some unsavory information about Louis that connects him to one of Mick’s prior cases, and suddenly Mick realizes why Louis chose him as his defense attorney, but this realization comes too late, as Mick’s family and friends are threatened, and Mick finds himself having to defend a man he knows is guilty not only of this charge but of a far more serious one.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a fun thriller with a likable character at its center. Attorney Mick Haller might not seem like the most likeable guy, but his energy is infectious, and he oozes confidence and charisma. As such, you can’t help but like the guy, and so when he’s targeted and double-crossed by another sly character, one who’s far more sinister than himself, you’re definitely rooting for him to succeed, and you want to see how he’s going to outsmart his adversary.

McConaughey imbues this guy with charisma and charm. His Mick is not a jerk or a weasel. He’s simply a player in the legal system, and he believes that all clients deserve to be defended. He just happens to be very good at what he does.

Taken as a whole, the film is somewhat uneven, as in addition to its main plot, which is good, it throws in a less than believable subplot involving Mick’s ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who works for the District Attorney’s office. No, they don’t face each other in court. In fact, they’re hardly adversaries at all, and tend to get along splendidly as they work together to raise their young daughter. They work together so well it makes you wonder how they got divorced in the first place.

Tomei is fine in the role, although ultimately she doesn’t have a lot to do, and is saddled with some awful lines of dialogue, like when she looks at her sleeping daughter and turns to Mick and says, “At least we did one thing right.” No, by all accounts you two do a lot of things right. Why aren’t you still together?

Ryan Phillippe is icy cold as the defendant Louis Roulet who tries to outsmart his attorney Mick, but he’s a much more one-dimensional character than Mick and nowhere near as satisfying. The more the story goes along, the more we realize Louis is no match for Mick and it’s only a matter of time before his plan blows up in his face.

Even colder than Phillipe is Frances Fisher as Mary Windsor, Louis’ powerful and manipulative mother. I wish she had been in the movie more.

William H. Macy is very good as Mick’s friend and investigator, Frank, and Macy delivers his usual strong performance. Laurence Mason is also very good as Mick’s driver Earl, who helps Mick with more than just driving.

The film also features decent performances by Josh Lucas as the prosecuting attorney who’s in way over his head taking on Mick, John Leguizamo as Val, the bondsman who introduces Mick to Louis, Michael Pena as Jesus Martinez, the former client of Mick’s who is now in jail in spite of his claims of innocence, and Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs, the head of Mary Windsor’s legal team.

Strangely, only Bryan Cranston fails to impress, as he’s stuck in a brief throwaway role as police detective Lankford. It’s the first time I’ve seen Cranston in a movie without being wowed, but this has less to do with his performance than with the brevity of the role.

For the most part, the screenplay by John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, succeeds. Its main story is very good, as the battle of wits between Mick and Louis is compelling.

Director Brad Furman does a nice job at the helm, making this one as slick and as polished as Mick’s Lincoln. Furman would go on to direct RUNNER, RUNNER (2013), starring Ben Affleck, and I found both films very similar in terms of quality.

Matthew McConaughey is the best part of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. While the rest of the film is a mixed bag, its talented cast and decent story make this one a more satisfying “mixed bag” than most.

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