Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Boyhood (2014) ****/*****

Richard Linklater has done a lot of interesting stuff over the course of his career as a director, but probably the best of what he’s produced so far comes in the form of his Before trilogy—three movies starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that take place over the course of 18 years. The Before movies are exceptional for two reasons. First of all, they’re famously about little more than people walking together and talking, yet they’re somehow able to not only keep that formula from getting boring, they’re also able to make it downright engaging for the length of three feature-length films. Secondly, because they were able to get the filmmaker and the stars back together for two sequels that each took place nine years apart, they were also able to look at a relationship from a unique perspective as it developed and as the couple naturally aged. We got to see Hawke and Delpy’s faces change and their perspectives change, without the use of phony aging makeup and showy acting meant to project aging, and with the added benefit of the creative forces actually growing in wisdom and skill in between each movie.

Linklater’s new film, Boyhood, is essentially the Before concept on steroids. Everything that was accomplished there is taken a step further and made a step more interesting because of increased ambition. This time around, instead of detailing a relationship as it grows and changes over the course of 18 years, checking in on it a mere three times, Linklater is detailing the entire childhood of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from age 5 to age 18, and he’s checking in on his development constantly. To be clear about that, this movie was shot over the course of 12 years, with the actors and the crew getting together every year to shoot a handful of new scenes—which means that you gradually watch all of the actors age 12 years, for real, over the course of the film, including watching the star morph from being a bright-eyed 5-year-old in the opening scene to being a scruffy-faced college freshman in the last. It’s a gimmick that would be worth checking out even if the movie wasn’t really any good, but that’s especially worth checking out because the film is so good that it just may be the new best thing Linklater has ever made.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) ****/*****

When it was announced that a Planet of the Apes reboot called Rise of the Planet of the Apes was going to be released in 2011, movie fans all over the world were instantly up in arms. The reason the project was so unwelcome was equal parts how beloved the original film from 1968 was and how reviled the first attempt to reboot the franchise in 2001 was. Did we really need another reboot when people still happily watched the original film and the first attempt at a new franchise had become all but forgotten over time? It didn’t seem like it, but a funny thing happened when Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes turned out to be a lot better than anyone anticipated—suddenly there was desire for a sequel. After it was announced that Wyatt wouldn’t be returning for the next film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we were all right back where we started though—dreading another Planet of the Apes movie. Well, now a funny thing has happened again. Matt Reeves (Let Me In) took over the Dawn directing duties from Wyatt, and he’s made a Planet of the Apes movie that’s even better than Rise was. What a world we live in.

The film opens with an artful montage sequence that fills us in on all of the things that have taken place in the years between the events of Rise and where we are now. The basic gist of it is that most of the human population has been killed off by the nasty virus that was created in the first film, governments have collapsed, and the only survivors are people who were genetically immune to the disease and who now live in isolated communities. On the other end of the spectrum, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape friends have been thriving in the redwood forests north of San Francisco. Their numbers have swelled, they’ve gotten more educated, more organized, and they even live in a giant treehouse village that’s pretty much the coolest thing this side of the Swiss Family Robinson. Conflict bubbles up when the last surviving members of the San Francisco population attempt to restore power to what’s left of their city by reactivating a dam that exists adjacent to the ape community. Both parties come face to face, tempers flare, and the question of whether the two species can coexist or if war between them is inevitable get raised.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Short Round: Begin Again (2014) **/*****

Begin Again, the latest music-heavy drama from Once writer/director John Carney, tells a story that springs out of two other tales that happen concurrently; the dissolution of a young songwriter’s (Keira Knightley) relationship with her boyfriend and writing partner (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) after he achieves rock star status, and the dissolution of a formerly successful music producer’s (Mark Ruffalo) life and career after a couple of tough breaks lead him into a pattern of alcoholism and self-destructive acting out. One chance encounter between a down-on-her-luck musician and an at-the-end-of-his-rope producer later, and you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen. They decide to make music together, and the process of doing so not only gets them both back on their feet, it teaches them important lessons about life and relationships. Every move this movie makes is telegraphed a mile away, but, if there was going to be a reason to see Begin Again, it wasn’t going to be for the groundbreaking storytelling anyway.

Chances are, if somebody was going to see Begin Again, it was either for the promise of a soundtrack full of great music, or to take in the performances of its two leads. Ruffalo’s scruffy charisma and Knightley’s sweet smile are two very powerful tricks for a movie to have up its sleeve, after all. Unfortunately, while they’re both present here, they’re just not enough to keep Begin Again from being a total bore. The portions of the film that focus on the failed romance of two young, white, attractive, rich people are just too rom-com retread to be remotely interesting. The portions that focus on the down and out record producer could have been something, except they don’t get enough time to fully develop, and the drama of the situation is neutered when Ruffalo’s character is given an out for his behavior and ultimately doesn’t have to own up to his alcoholism. That leaves the portions of the film where Ruffalo and Knightley’s characters get together and make music, and they’re no deeper than a montage sequence from an 80s movie where a bunch of people get together and clean up an old house while a song plays. Begin Again is pure Hollywood formula that has been mined no deeper than usual and that has had no unique spin put on it whatsoever. Tedious.

Which leaves us with the music. There is a lot of good music in this thing, I guess, if you’re into the sort of pop-friendly, singer-songwriter stuff that the people behind the soundtrack have come up with. Is it all so good that an entire feature film needed to be built around it? Probably not—and that’s exactly what this film plays as while you’re watching it—a half-baked promotional vehicle meant to promote a soundtrack. If you’re the type of person who likes Maroon 5 and who wants to hear what Levine did for this movie, then, by all means, give the soundtrack a listen. Fans of Knightley especially might want to try it out to see what a pleasant surprise she can be when put behind a microphone. There’s really no reason for anyone to bother sitting through the movie itself though. Life is too short, and there will be other Mark Ruffalo vehicles.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Snowpiercer (2014) ****/*****

Seeing as Bong Joon-ho’s Korean-language film Mother, which was released in the US back in 2010, was one of the darkest, most complex, and most uncompromising thrillers that I’ve seen in a number of years, I went into his new film, Snowpiercer, feeling pretty optimistic—even though it’s a post-apocalypse movie built on the ridiculous premise that the world is a frozen wasteland and the last surviving members of the human race are all living on a super-long, self-sustaining train that continuously circles the globe. Is it possible for anyone, even a talent on the level of Bong’s, to take a premise this inherently head-scratching in its weirdness and still make a movie that’s engaging and relatable to audiences? Apparently it is, and the secret to the formula seems to be to cast Captain America as your lead. 

To get back to the plot though—this is a movie that shouldn’t work. If you give it a moment’s thought, there’s no reason for what happens in this movie to be set on a moving train, there’s no reason for the poor people who act as our heroes to exist on the train in the way that they do, and, in general, there’s no reason that an audience should buy any of the broadly drawn, cartoony characters who we’re introduced to over the course of the story. But Snowpiercer introduces us to those characters, it gives us ridiculous explanations for the particulars of its world, and not only do we buy everything we’re given, we lap it up greedily and we ask for more.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Christmas (2014) ****/*****

Sometimes the movies that Joe Swanberg makes get flack, because they’re small in scope, made using loose outlines and actor improvisation rather than full scripts, and he’s generally able to churn a ton of them out in a small amount of time. Some pundits even go as far as to say that they’re not real movies, just video projects or something, like someone might do in art school. That kind of closed-minded thinking discounts the authenticity and the moments of serendipitous magic that can come from getting the right chemical mix of talented improvisors in a room and letting them just live in the moment though. Movies like this, they can tap into truths that reflect our real lives so much more accurately than scripted drama can, and as Swanberg’s career has progressed and he’s gotten the opportunity to work with more and more experienced actors, his stuff has just gotten better and better. His 2013 movie Drinking Buddies was not only the most commercial thing he’s done, it was probably also the best thing he’s done, and this new project, Happy Christmas, tops even that.  

The story here is simple and the focus in on character, as always. Jenny (Anna Kendrick) is in her late twenties, but is still as directionless as people usually are when they’re in their early twenties. We don’t really know why that is, but we get a good indication that something has recently gone wrong in her life, and we know that she’s just ended a relationship (a move everyone questions) and has decided to move to Chicago in order to live with her brother (Swanberg) and to help him and his wife (Melanie Lynskey) take care of their baby. The problem with that plan is, after a night out with her best friend (Lena Dunham) that ends up in a drunken blackout, and after an awkward romantic encounter with the couple’s babysitter (Mark Webber) that triggers a personal crisis, it becomes unclear whether or not Jenny can really be trusted to take care of much of anything. Of course, while all of this nuts and bolts plot stuff plays out, relationships get formed, interactions both tense and joyful are had, and personal growth is achieved—and thus we have a movie.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Short Round: They Came Together (2014) ***/*****

Once upon a time, spoof movies were a legitimate form of entertainment that even audiences who weren’t botched lobotomy victims could enjoy. They’d take a handful of recent trends in movies, exaggerate them to the point of ridiculousness—successfully lampooning whatever trope was their target—and usually they’d be packed full of a bunch of other random gags to boot. Fun. Then all of those Scary Movie-wannabe spoofs that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer made came along, and a precedent was set that all a movie needed to do in order to be a spoof was recreate scenes from popular movies beat for beat, with no punchlines, and a bunch of humorless zombies would keep buying tickets to them anyway. The spoof movie felt dead.

The good news for us is that director David Wain (Role Models, Wanderlust) and his Wet Hot American Summer co-writer Michael Showalter have reunited to bring the art form back to life. Their new movie, They Came Together, stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as a couple who are relaying the story of how they met cute and got together while out to dinner with friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper). You see, They Came Together is a spoof of romantic comedies, a proper one, that not only satirizes all of the tired clichés, recycled character types, and re-heated plot elements of one of the most consistently lazy and consistently watched film genres out there, but that also packs itself full of a bunch of other random gags for good measure.

Like Wet Hot American Summer, the humor of They Came Together is pretty Meta, it’s pretty absurdist, and it’s pretty dang funny. With a supporting cast this deep (Christopher Meloni, Max Greenfield, Cobie Smulders, Michael Ian Black, Ed Hems, etc…), it pretty much had to be. The thing that keeps the film from getting over that quality hump that would make it an easy recommendation, however, is that it’s really just a series of gags that make fun of romantic comedies, and not so much a solid story that stands on its own. The best spoof movies don’t just satirize a genre, they hold up as a solid entry in that genre as well, and this one is nowhere near doing that. Wet Hot American Summer was able to get away with not telling a real story because it was so insane and so packed full of boundary-pushing humor, but, comparatively, They Came Together is a much tamer experience that seems to be much more concerned with not alienating the norms, and it suffers for the restraint. It’s a funny movie, for sure, it’s just not the kind of thing that anyone is going to need to watch more than once.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Obvious Child (2014) ***/*****

Jenny Slate very infamously uttered the F word during her very first sketch on her very first season as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, and didn’t end up lasting too long on the show afterwards. So that didn’t end up being the big break she was probably hoping it would be. Chances are good her starring role in this indie dramedy from writer/director Gillian Robespierre will end up being the thing that gets her to the next level though, because Obvious Child sees her shouldering the weight of a true leading role where she appears in almost every scene of a movie and is asked to serve as the heart and soul that all of its other elements revolve around, and she does a good enough job with the task that she’s likely to turn some heads in industry casting departments.

The main reason people seem to be talking about Obvious Child is its subject matter. It’s something of a romantic comedy, and it pretty closely resembles one of those indie movies where a directionless 20-something stumbles through their life trying to find meaning, but it comes loaded with the hook that the majority of its conflict comes from an abortion. Slate’s character, a somewhat air-headed standup comedian named Donna, meets a strange guy (Jake Lacy) in a bar, sleeps with him while in a drunken stupor, and then has to decide whether or not she’s ready to be a mother once she realizes that they forgot to actually use the condom they had with them, resulting in a pregnancy. Turns out she’s not ready to be a mother, at all, so she decides to go through with the abortion. Obvious Child is mostly the story of her following through with this decision. It’s an unflinching and unapologetic depiction of what it’s like to be one of the many young women who get put in this situation every day. It’s a bit sad, it’s often darkly funny, and because it’s so honest and nonjudgmental in its portrayal of the Donna character, it’s gotten a lot of people’s attention.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Night Moves (2014) ****/*****

With the features she’s made to date, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt has established a reputation for being a filmmaker who makes small, character-based movies that are light on plot, slow to develop, and that always take place in Oregon. Old Joy was about a couple of old friends going into the woods to visit a hot springs, Wendy and Lucy was about a young drifter who lost her dog, and Meek’s Cutoff was about a group of 1800s-era travelers wandering through the more desolate parts of the state. That’s it. Simple stories. No further complications necessary.

Her new film, Night Moves, sticks to the recipe pretty closely, though it does add quite a bit of spice to the mix thanks to its story including some tension-building paranoia and the promise of violence. The main characters are a trio of self-styled eco-terrorists who plan to protest hydroelectric power and the damage it does to salmon populations by loading a boat up with fertilizer, floating it out to a dam, and blowing the whole thing up. Jesse Eisenberg plays the closest thing the group has to a leader, a lonely-seeming young man named Josh, Dakota Fanning plays a rich-girl-turned-hippie named Dena who uses daddy’s money to bankroll the operation, and Peter Sarsgaard plays the elder statesman of the group, Harmon. He’s the one who seems to have all of the practical knowledge of how to put together a bomb, and he also seems to be the one who’s getting sleazy kicks from committing acts that are dangerous and illegal. You know, he’s a real Peter Sarsgaard type. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Short Round: 22 Jump Street (2014) ***/*****

Sequels are hard enough to make already, but when you task yourself with making a comedy sequel, then you’ve really got a challenge on your hands. A joke, if good, is funny the first time you hear it, but the second time? Infinitely less so. So how does one make a sequel that has enough to do with an original comedy for consumers to recognize it as being more of what they enjoyed the first time, but that keeps things fresh enough that it doesn’t feel like they’re being re-told the same joke? For directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) and the bevy of screenwriters they’ve employed here, the answer seems to be to make a 22 Jump Street that’s not only very aware that it exists solely because 21 Jump Street was a financial success, but that also mines all of the usual pandering and repetition comedy sequels abuse for Meta comedy.

How does it fare? Eh. Not amazingly well, honestly. The Meta humor regarding the nature of comedy sequels and how they’re generally given the thankless task of trotting out the same old shit for another go-around of cynical money-making is good for a few chuckles, but it’s not funny enough to forgive the fact that 22 Jump Street is still a comedy sequel that’s trotting out all of the same old shit for another go-around of cynical money-making. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have strong comedic chemistry, to be sure, but they were already so old in the first film that a few self-aware jokes had to be made about how old they looked there, and in this sequel the problem is so bad that you basically have to re-address how they look nothing like college freshman every time a new character appears. Exposition is the death of comedy, so making two movies about a couple of adult cops who need to go undercover as students to break up a drug ring is certainly pushing your luck. 22 Jump Street has a handful of laughs, but not enough to make up for what a pointless retread it is. If Hill and Tatum work so well together, why not reunite them to work on another original script and not a silly sequel? It worked the first time.

To be fair, 21 Jump Street wasn’t a movie that worked all that well for me the first time around either, but it’s grown in my esteem over time because it’s consistently funny and it’s good for casual re-watching, so it’s possible that 22 Jump Street could achieve the same feat over time. It is pretty funny, after all. The work Jillian Bell does is good enough alone to mean that everyone should check the movie out for themselves. She’s playing a small, supporting role, but every time she opens her mouth to say anything she gets a big laugh. Plus, Hill and Tatum really do have an easy chemistry that allows them to seamlessly pass off who’s playing the comic relief and who’s being the straight man in any given situation. When you get down to the nitty gritty though, a handful of laughs are likely not enough to apologize for a movie that’s so stupid in its conception that it has to keep re-apologizing for itself as it goes on. There’s just not much going on in here that’s going to stick with anyone for more than ten minutes after they’re done watching it. At the very least though, it’s inspired me to go back to me 21 Jump Street review and bump up its rating a notch. It’s easy to forget just how bad that movie could have turned out in other hands.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Short Round: Filth (2014) ***/*****

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a terrible man. He’s addicted to drugs, compulsive about sex, rude, lewd, and he bullies his friends and co-workers and plays pranks on them that are so extreme that it would be no stretch to categorize them as being abuse. He’s also a Detective on the Edinburgh police force. Also he’s crazy. Or, at least, he’s increasingly plagued by disturbing hallucinations. I guess the word “crazy” is relative. Filth is his story; a character study that plays out over the course of his investigation of the murder of a young Japanese student by a crew of equally young street hoods. It’s also an adaptation of an Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting") novel, so you probably already have a sense of the black humor and affection for the dregs of society that exists at its core.

Of course, Filth is also a movie that’s been made by a relative newcomer in Jon S. Baird, and not by a directing prodigy like Danny Boyle, so to go into it expecting to see the second coming of Trainspotting isn’t going to do anyone any service. What Baird comes up with isn’t without its own style—as a matter of fact, he’s able to offer up some memorably twisted images as Robertson’s dementia increases—but the reason to watch Filth isn’t the style or craft inherent in the filmmaking, or even the personality that comes from Welsh’s source material—it’s the work that McAvoy is able to do as the deranged lead.

Robertson is such an awful man that there’s a real risk inherent in any telling of this story that he could be just too despicable for an audience to want to spend so much time with him, but McAvoy is so engaging as a performer that you can’t ever take your eyes off of him, even as he’s taking joy in doing things that you find repellant. More than that though, this screenplay is always smart enough to keep him from becoming completely irredeemable. He gets a moment or two where he’s clearly aching to get his shit together to the point where he could be considered a real person, and he does have a handful of mysterious and traumatic past experiences that are driving his behavior; all of which is just perfect material for McAvoy to dig into and bring to life with his expressive face, which is so good at conveying multiple emotions at once. Filth isn’t anything great, but it’s worth checking out thanks to the work put in by its star.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) ****/*****

The last time we saw Tom Cruise starring in a big budget summer movie, it was in the sci-fi mind-bender Oblivion, which was pretty to look at and featured the usual rock solid star turn from Cruise, but which caught a lot of flack for being a hodgepodge of science fiction conceits that had already been presented in other, better films. With his new project, Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise sees himself once again starring in a pastiche film that has melded together ideas from other genre works, only this time, under the watch of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), he sees much better results.

This time around Cruise is playing a prissy bureaucrat named Cage who circumstances have put in the middle of a D-Day-type invasion of Europe meant to stop the spread of an alien threat that has taken over most of the continent and is about to advance on London. Alien invaders aren’t the only crazy thing going on here though. A freak occurrence during the battle also sees Cage gaining the ability to go back in time to the morning before the invasion every time he dies, effectively creating a time loop where he goes to war, gets killed, and wakes up ready to be sent off to war all over again, again and again. His only chance to move forward seems to be to keep dying over and over again until he can somehow figure out a way to save the doomed invasion and defeat the alien threat who has them so vastly outnumbered, by using the advantage of extreme trial and error. The bad news about that is that it sucks to get killed over and over again, but the good news is that an infamously badass warrior named Rita (Emily Blunt) seems to have some answers to what exactly has happened to Cage, and she may just be able to help him kill all the aliens, end the time loop he finds himself stuck in, and save what’s left of the world in the process.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Short Round: Willow Creek (2014) **/*****

Willow Creek is a found footage horror movie about a Bigfoot enthusiast (Bryce Johnson) and his non-believer girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) going deep out into the woods to film their attempt at recreating the journey Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin took when they captured their infamously grainy footage of a creature that may or may not have been a female Bigfoot back in 1967. Probably your immediate reaction to this premise is to sigh in defeat. You already know how this story is going to end, you already know every beat it’s going to hit while getting to that ending, and you already know how terrible the camera work is going to be thanks to the found footage gimmick, so what’s the point? Well, once you hear that this is also the latest movie from director Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America), who’s basically a master of pitch black satire, your opinion probably changes. Clearly the only reason a filmmaker like this would want to take on a project like this is because he has a bunch of tricks up his sleeve regarding the skewering of all the conventions of this recent glut of found footage horror movies, right? Unfortunately, no. Turns out that’s not the case at all.

Never in a million years would I have imagined that Goldthwait would spend his time and energy making a movie like this, that’s made up entirely of cliché after cliché ran through without a single twist on the formula, but here it is nonetheless. From the threatening warnings from the locals to stay away, to the mysterious noises heard in the dark, to the sequence where the protagonists argue about whether or not they’ve already been past that tree before, you’ve already seen every scene Willow Creek offers up, and you have nothing to gain from seeing them again. At one point in the film, Gilmore’s character explains to her partner, “I’m trying to film and walk in a treacherous area at the same time. Bear with me,” and that’s pretty indicative of the experience as a whole. No, we will not bear with you. We’ve paid to watch this movie, and for it to just be a bunch of shaky footage shot by people stumbling over rocks and sticks for a good deal of its run time is completely unacceptable. 

Perhaps sticking to the usual formula would have been reasonable if the protagonists were entertaining, or at least likable in any way, but these two dull drips going out into dense, remote wilderness that’s full of bears and mountain lions and whatnot, without a gun or any survival equipment of any kind, completely fails to inspire even a shred of affection or empathy. If anything, you can’t wait for something scary to tear these idiots apart and put the whole story to bed. The urge to shout, “Why don’t you hipsters have jobs?” at the screen is a real one—and constant. There are a couple of segments early in the film where Gilmore interviews Bigfoot-enthusiasts who are clearly non-actors and who likely weren’t reading from a script that are slightly interesting because of weirdness, and the whole thing only runs 80 minutes, so it doesn’t get too much of a chance to wear out its welcome, but other than that there’s not much to be said in the favor of Willow Creek. Hopefully Goldthwait’s next project will get him back to the subversiveness that he excels at.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Immigrant (2014) ***/*****

The Immigrant isn’t just a period piece about the trials and tribulations many impoverished travelers faced when they came to this country looking for a new life after the first World War. It’s also a look at the trials and tribulations that women who fall on hard times have faced after catching the eyes of predatory men, all throughout history. The lead character is a Polish immigrant named Ewa (Marion Cotillard), who after an unseemly incident on the boat ride over to America, and because of the lung illness of her sister, Magda (Angela Sarafyan), has been denied entry into the country. Eventually she’s faced with a decision—either go back to the life she has risked so much to flee, or accept the help of a suspicious man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), who seems to have all the right connections, and has offered to get her off of Ellis Island and into the country proper.

Turns out, like many men who offer to help out strangers while simultaneously sporting a creepy leer,  Bruno is a pimp and a con artist, and it isn’t long after Ewa comes to rely on him for her continued existence that he forces her into a life of prostitution. From this point on, the story goes from sad to sadder, until Ewa also catches the eye of a charismatic young magician (Jeremy Renner) who performs at the same speakeasy where Bruno runs a topless stage show. Then there’s a fight for her fate that injects some much-needed hope into her life, but that still winds up being vile and depressing, because it’s never a good thing when two men fight over the fate of a woman who has no say in her own matters. The Immigrant is a difficult, dark story about the lack of female agency in our culture. It seems like a work that should be an eye-opening look back at a worse time in our history, but, unfortunately, it couldn’t be any more relevant to today’s news cycle—which is the main thing that makes it interesting.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) ****/*****

There have been so many X-Men movies at this point, to try to explain what they are to someone who doesn’t already know would be insanely frustrating. To put it simply though, they’re adaptations of a long-running Marvel comic that explains away its characters’ super powers by saying that they derive from mutations. Mutants pop up and do incredible things, regular people get scared, and then there’s conflict. The whole thing is basically an allegory used to explore intolerance in society. The head of the good guys is Professor X, who is kind of the mutant Martin Luther King, the head of the bad guys is Magneto, who’s kind of the mutant Malcolm X, and caught in between them is our hearts and minds.

The bad news about the latest film in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past, is that director Matthew Vaughn, who made the recent X-Men prequel that was a soft reboot of the series, X-Men: First Class, and who added a much-needed sense of style to the franchise, didn’t come back for this sequel. The good news though is that Bryan Singer, who made the first two X-Men movies and who set the tone for the series, came back to replace him, so you basically know what you’re going to get here. The story starts in a dystopian future where robot “Sentinels” built to hunt and kill mutants have taken over the world and have turned it into a smoldering wasteland. Only a few mutants remain in this hellscape, so a plan is hatched where old Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and old Magneto (Ian McKellan) send old Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to recruit their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so that they can help stop the mutant shapeshifter Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing an illegal act that gets the production of the Sentinels put into motion in the first place—which proves to be something of a problem, because the young Professor X and Magneto are still very much at odds with each other. Yeah, this is a time travel movie, and yeah, it’s kind of confusing.