Movie Club – X-Men: Days of Future Past Discussion

13271659_10157021917005374_157650580_oWelcome to McKoo’s Movie Club! For more information on how it works, click here. The movie that we are discussing this week is X-Men: Days of Future Past. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead, so please return after you’ve watched it if you haven’t yet.

As I start this discussion, I have to admit that I may be biased – X-Men: Days of Future Past is not only my favorite superhero movie to date, it’s probably my favorite movie after all three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m still not convinced that I’ll ever see a movie that I like as much as LOTR). There are several reasons for this, which I shall attempt to discuss coherently. I suppose I should first explain that the original X-Men trilogy was as formative a part of my teenage movie experience as the original Star Wars trilogy was for my childhood. Given, the X-Men series was never my #1 favorite like Star Wars was when I was a kid, but that’s because LOTR came out around the same time as X-Men, and as I already acknowledged, nothing can ever beat LOTR.

All of this is to say that my love for this film probably is heavily influenced by nostalgia. In fact, the first bit of nostalgia that struck for me when watching this movie for the first time occurred within minutes of the opening of the movie. After a quick prologue with dark shots of the depressing world of the future narrated by Patrick Stewart (whose narration is in itself a throwback to previous X-Men movies), we dive straight into the opening titles. Nothing particularly special, right? Except for the fact that it is the EXACT SAME OPENING TITLE MUSIC FROM X2. I have (and had at that point as well) been saying for years that the most disappointing aspect of most superhero films today is that they lack a single heroic musical theme. Whether it’s compared to John Williams’ Superman theme (which is still my favorite superhero theme, and just may be my favorite Williams theme period) or Danny Elfman’s iconic Batman and Spider-Man themes, we rarely have modern superhero films that have music that can match, and we certainly don’t have superhero movies with opening titles sequences that utilize the theme to get you pumped about the upcoming movie.  And in the rare circumstance when a hero or group of heroes does have a recognizable theme, they are either barely used or not used at all in their subsequent films. X2 had the best music of the original trilogy (each film was scored by a different composer) and here was Days of Future Past bringing it back reinvigorated and in an awesome opening titles sequence. There I was in the theater, having seen hardly any of the movie, and I was already in love with it. To this day, any time I watch this movie, I always turn up my television’s volume as loud as I can stand it just for this scene, as it still gets me excited about what I’m about to watch.

The amazing thing is that the movie maintains this level of excitement throughout the very next scene. I still think that the opening fight with the Sentinels is one of the best super-powered fight scenes in cinematic history. Here you see mostly new characters exhibiting some visually beautiful powers, as well as finally getting to see Iceman use his iconic ice-slide. And then, you one by one see most of them tragically die (can I just say how freaking awesome it is to see Warpath facing what he knows what will be his death armed only with a dagger and charging head-on toward the sentinel anyway?) Forget superhero movies, this is one of my favorite action scenes in any film, period. As in, I’m seriously considering stopping this post right now just so that I can watch it again. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve probably watched just the first 10 minutes of this movie dozens of times.

Moving past the opening of the film, another one of my favorite scenes occurs when McAvoy’s Xavier meets Stewart’s Xavier. Let’s just set aside the fact that we get to see these two phenomenal actors interact for a moment, and focus on the dialogue of the scene. Xavier’s speech that includes the line “just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever … sometimes, we all need a little hope” just might be the most, well, hopeful, speech in a movie since Samwise Gamgee reminded us that “there is still some good left in this world … and it’s worth fighting for.” I don’t know how someone can watch this scene in the context of the film and not feel inspired to not only become a better person, but also to help loved ones who may be struggling. Additionally, John Ottman’s score during this scene, while subtle, I also find to be just as memorable and moving as the main theme that he used for the opening titles and end credits. Entitled “Hope (Xavier’s Theme),” I literally hear the opening notes of this piece of music in my head any time someone says the word “hope.” Can we also acknowledge what a throwback this is to one of the early scenes in the original X-Men film? When we see Xavier and Magneto on the screen for the first time in the original film, Magneto feels that Xavier is probing his mind, and he asks “Whatever are you looking for?” His response: “I’m looking for hope.” Throughout every film in the franchise, Xavier continues to hope, among many things, that Magneto can be redeemed. However, one of the main focuses of DOFP is Xavier’s loss and regaining of hope for his future, as well as Raven’s. And I feel that it explores both beautifully.

There is so much more that I could talk about with this film, but for the sake of attempted brevity, I will skip toward the end. Not only does the climactic battle have nearly as much amazing action as the opening scene, it also has a lot more emotional heft. Unlike the opening scene, when each of the characters were fairly confident they would live again via a changed timeline, here, the characters had nothing more than the hope (there’s that motif again) that by sacrificing themselves, their friends might be able to save the day. Once again drawing a parallel to LOTR, this scene reminds me of the emotional beat at the battle at the very end of Return of the King. The remains of the army of Gondor and Rohan, led by Aragorn, are willing to sacrifice themselves to a horde of orcs that greatly outnumber them, all in the hopes that it will buy Frodo enough time destroy the Ring.

And just like in Return of the King, where we get the joyfully happy endings of various Fellowship members reuniting with each other and the Hobbits returning to the Shire, we end this film seeing the characters that we know and love from the original trilogy not only alive, but also happy. It is of course especially moving to see both Scott and Jean, who both tragically died in The Last Stand, alive and together again. Perhaps this is the reason that I love this movie so much – I am a sucker for happy endings. And while this film may not be the ending of the X-Men franchise, it is the perfect ending to the original trilogy that started some 14 years before the release of this film. In a way, this movie was everything that I really wanted The Force Awakens to be that it wasn’t – a reunion of my favorite characters not only being their awesome selves (I’m looking at you, Luke “I’m only in this movie for 30 seconds” Skywalker), but also getting the true happy ending they deserve. For most pieces of fiction, the ending is always my favorite entry. Whether it was Deathly Hallows (both the book and the movie), Return of the King, Return of the Jedi, or even Children of the Mind (the conclusion to the original Ender’s Game book series), I am often a sucker for the final story that wraps everything up and puts a nice bow on it. And Days of Future Past can really be seen as the true ending to the original X-Men trilogy (while also continuing the new series that starting with First Class). What more could you want?

What are your thoughts about X-Men: Days of Future Past? Please sound off in the comments section below! Likewise, please share this movie club with your friends on social media – it will give you more people to discuss these movies with, and may even provide you opportunities to watch it with them!

NEXT WEEK’S FILM – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It can be streamed with a Netflix membership, or rented on Netflix DVD, Google Play, or Amazon.

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Movie Club – Unbreakable Discussion

timthumbWelcome to McKoo’s Movie Club! For more information on how it works, click here. The movie that we are discussing this week is Unbreakable. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead, so please return after you’ve watched it if you haven’t yet.

Unbreakable is a film that was ahead of its time. Today, cinemas are inundated with superhero movies (starting next week, some multiplex theaters will have three different superhero movies playing there simultaneously). Yet when Unbreakable was released in 2000, the modern age of superhero movies had not yet fully begun. With the exception of the first X-Men film, which was released only a few months before Unbreakable, the only major superhero films that had been released were the Christopher Reeve Superman series and the Burton/Schumacher Batman franchise. Yet Unbreakable addressed common themes and elements from superhero stories (primarily comics) that have seeped into many of the most successful comic book films of today, such as the origin story, a hero’s weakness, and heroes and villains having a symbiotic relationship. Unbreakable truly feels like a movie that should have been released today, rather than 16 years ago.

One aspect of the film that I particularly enjoy is that it uses visuals rather than dialogue to tell the many parts of the story. In fact, in some instances, it uses simultaneous visuals and dialogue to tell two separate stories. One example of this is when David wakes up in the hospital and the doctor begins to question him. While we learn from the dialogue about the crash and David’s miraculous survival, we also see the story of a dying patient played out in the foreground as we watch his labored breathing become more difficult, and then we finally see a wound open up and bleed profusely. At once we see the story of two survivors of the train wreck: one that is inexplicably unharmed, and one that is mortally injured.

Visual motifs are also used throughout the film, especially seeing images upside down, and seeing reflections, sometimes just for a moment, but other times for entire scenes (such as the conversation between young Elijah and his mother that is mostly observed through a reflection off of a television screen). This could symbolize the skewed world that Elijah mentions that is observed by heroes and villains. Likewise, just like in comic books, many characters are associated with a specific color. Elijah’s clothes are almost always primarily purple, David is often seen wearing green and he wears the all-green overcoat during the climactic scene with the home-invader, who in turn wears the completely orange janitorial jumpsuit.

Additionally, the score for this movie may be one of James Newton Howard’s best scores. Rather than having a score filled with bombastic themes that are appropriate for most superhero films, the main musical theme of this film is much more slow and haunting to match the grounded tone of the film. At the same time, it is just as easily “hum-able” and recognizable when it is used in the movie as some of the most popular superhero themes, such as John William’s Superman theme or Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme.

Lastly, the mind-shattering ending is what cements the film as a success, in my opinion. We spend the entire film focusing on all the aspects of David that make him a hero, and the film just as poignantly points that Elijah is in every way his opposite, and yet what should be the obvious conclusion that the opposite of the hero must be the villain isn’t made clear until the reveal in the final scene that Elijah was the mastermind behind all of the recent tragedies in the city. Here, Elijah reiterates the theme of opposites (which has been emphasized by the previously mentioned visual motifs of reflections and upside-down shots) by stating this his existence and actions had no true meaning until there was a hero to take his place at the opposite end of the spectrum. This is very similar to a theme that was played out in 2008’s The Dark Knight when the Joker suggests that Batman’s existence is what has brought a crazed criminal like himself into play. A similar theme is discussed in a scene of the recently-released Captain America: Civil War. As mentioned before, this highlights a symbiotic relationship and one of the fundamental questions about superheroes: do superheroes come into being to stop supervillains? Or do supervillains exist to give opposition to superheroes?

As I said at the beginning of this discussion, many of the questions that this film poses are extremely relevant to today’s superhero-dominated cinema. I personally think that this movie is a must-watch for anyone who is a fan of the genre, and I also feel that this movie may have gotten much more critical and audience attention had it come out today.

What are your thoughts about this film? Please sound off in the comments section below! Likewise, please share this movie club with your friends on social media – it will give you more people to discuss these movies with, and may even provide you opportunities to watch it with them!

NEXT WEEK’S FILM: X-Men: Days of Future Past. It is available to rent on Netflix DVD, Google Play, Amazon, and VidAngel.

Movie Club – Captain Phillips Discussion

Captain_Phillips_PosterWelcome to McKoo’s Movie Club! For more info on how it works, click here. The movie that we are discussing this week is Captain Phillips. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead, so please return after you’ve watched it if you haven’t yet.

“Look at me. I am the captain now.”

Having just watched this for the first time recently, this movie was far more powerful, emotional, and suspenseful than I was expecting. However, once I realized that the director was Paul Greengrass (who had previously done some of the Bourne films and is scheduled to return for the fifth one this summer), I wasn’t as surprised. He takes a lot of the high-stakes style storytelling from those action movies, and transplants them into this life-or-death drama. This movie was one of the biggest emotional rollercoasters that a film has sent me on in quite some time. Prior to watching this, I actually knew that Captain Phillips was going to survive, being somewhat familiar with the true story that this film was based  on, yet I still was on the edge of my seat with anticipation of what would happen next.

One of the many reasons that this film works so well is the superb acting. Tom Hanks gives yet another stellar “I’m in an impossible situation, but I’m going to pull through” performance that I would say is on par with his role in Apollo 13. If this movie can’t convince you that Tom Hanks is one of the best living actors, I don’t know what will. One of my favorite things about this performance is how he made the character feel real – at first, he almost seemed a little stuffy and unlikable (kind of like an annoying boss who seems to think that one should have absolutely zero fun while on the clock, even if you’re still being productive). Yet as the movie progressed, we got to see that he is courageous and genuinely cares about the safety of his crew. This seemed like a true-to-life reminder that just because someone rubs you the wrong way initially, it doesn’t mean that they are devoid of good qualities.

Barkhad Abdi, who plays the main pirate Muse, also delivered a spectacular performance. It comes as no surprise to me that he was nominated for an Oscar for this role. Rather than just being a two-dimensional villain for the sake of villainy, I really felt this character’s unyielding determination to prove himself. Had this been a superhero or crime film, I felt that he would have been a similarly well-developed character that you would typically go on to see becoming a terrifying crime boss, like Fisk from Netflix’s Daredevil.

I also enjoy the performance from Barkhad Abdirahman, who plays the young pirate Bilal. Largely because of his portrayal, I was actually quite sad that his character died. It was obvious that while he made a poor choice and had to be accountable for his actions, he was also a product of his circumstances. It made you wish he had a better chance at life. While Muse was definitely the complex and driven villain, Bilal was just as definitely the tragic villain who you wanted to turn good, and felt that his death was a tragedy.

Being a huge sci-fi fan that I am (especially of properties like Star Trek and Firefly) I love how this felt like it could have easily been some kind of adventure taking place on a damaged and stranded spaceship, and yet it took place in very real locations with very real conflicts. It also contained some themes that one often sees in superhero films – people in desperate situations that are willing to sacrifice themselves to save others (Phillips), as well as being rescued from nefarious individuals (the pirates) by other individuals with great power and resources (the Navy). Given, one could rightly say that sci-fi and superheroes appropriate these themes from real-world stories like this, but I feel like I see these themes used in the fantastical world of sci-fi far more frequently, and it was refreshing to see these story elements utilized in a grounded and real-world setting.

Lastly, I loved seeing this mind games that the characters played with each other (including Hanks, the pirates, and the Navy). For me, intellectual sparring can be just as compelling to watch as actual physical battles, and this movie was full of mental maneuvers. Despite the number of times various characters said “No tricks!,” there were plenty of tricks played by all.

Please let me know what you thought of this movie in the comments section! Was this movie as suspenseful for you as it was for me? If you’ve seen this before, was it as suspenseful the second time around? Did you see any of the sci-fi and superhero story elements that I did, or did this seem entirely like a real-world drama? What was your favorite performance of the film? Sound off below!

If you enjoy the concept of an online movie club, and want your friends to participate as well, please share this on social media!

NEXT WEEK’S FILM: Unbreakable. It is available to rent on Netflix DVD, Google Play, Amazon, and VidAngel.

Movie Club – Captain America: The Winter Soldier Discussion

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Welcome to McKoo’s Movie Club! For more info on how it works, click here. The movie that we are discussing this week is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead, so please return after you’ve watched it if you haven’t yet.

Two years later, and I still think that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of Marvel’s best movies. While I enjoyed The First Avenger, as well as Cap’s scenes in Avengers, this was the movie that really cemented the cinematic success of the character in my eyes (as well as in the eyes of many other moviegoers and critics). While those previous two films portrayed him as a morally upright character, this movie puts those aspects to the test when his opponents aren’t Nazis or alien invaders, they are his own countrymen working for his government. Winter Soldier takes him beyond his “boy scout” role portrayed before and makes him more like Edward Snowden meets Jason Bourne. In doing so, Marvel also began a trend that continued with films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man: mixing the superhero genre with other film genres (such as space opera and heist film) to diversify their movie offerings. Here, Winter Soldier combines a superhero movie with a political thriller.

The fact that this is a compelling action movie that stands up with some of the best action films becomes even more impressive when you consider that this is the first action movie and the first big-budget film directed by the brother duo Joe and Anthony Russo, who were previously known primarily for their work on TV comedies. Many people were skeptical when they were handed the keys to this movie, but after this success, they’ve also been hired to direct Civil War (which comes out today), as well as both parts of the upcoming Avenger: Infinity War.

The film also contains great acting all-around. As mentioned before, Captain America becomes an indispensable part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this film, and that is largely due to Chris Evans’ portrayal of the character. Once again, I thought he did well in First Avenger and Avengers, but I thought he gave a fairly replaceable performance (in other words, just about any good actor could have played the role, and I would have been fine with it). It’s in this movie that he seems to start finally making the role his own. Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson also delivers the best Nick Fury scenes to date. While he was relegated to the role of a talking head for most of his other scenes in previous Marvel films, the car chase scene involving Nick Fury toward the beginning of the film is arguably one of the best films in the movie. Also, for all of those who have been clamoring for a Black Widow solo film, this is the closest we’ve gotten so far, and what makes the character successful is once again the acting. Much like with Cap, I enjoyed Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Widow in Iron Man 2 and Avengers, but I didn’t start to believe that she was a vital part of the character until this movie.

Being a fan of the comics, I loved the story of the film as it simultaneously took some cues from one of my favorite comic book storylines of all time (Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America) by bringing in characters like the Winter Soldier, but it also managed to keep me guessing. I loved the fact that this movie was able to successfully bring back Hydra, one of the best and most formidable terrorist cells in Marvel comics, and that it was able to do so while also providing social commentary on current events such as NSA surveillance. One of the most relevant lines from the film is delivered by Arnim Zola (whose presence in a computer was another great Easter Egg for comics fans) when he says “humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security.”

Lastly, as mentioned before, the action scenes in this movie are what makes it really shine. In my opinion, this is one of the best “one person awesomely beats up everyone he encounters” movie since The Bourne Ultimatum. Whether it’s the scene on the freighter, Lemurian Star, that starts the movie off, the scene on the causeway of Winter Soldier and Hydra versus Cap and company, or the final heart wrenching fight on the helicarriers, this movie is packed with amazing action.

So what are your thoughts on this movie? Please add to the discussion in the comments section below! And be sure to come back next week!

NEXT WEEK’S FILM: Captain Phillips. It is available for rent on Netflix DVD, Google Play, Amazon, and VidAngel

McKoo’s Movie Club Is Finally Here!

resized_all-the-things-meme-generator-watch-all-the-movies-d835bfSo you know those regularly-held book clubs that people go to? Where a book is picked and then everyone reads it and comes back together a little while later to discuss it? For quite some time now, I’ve wondered why such a concept isn’t more regularly utilized as a way to watch movies. So I figured, why not start my own? In fact, that was the inspiration for creating this blog, as well as what I hope will be its main purpose: as an opportunity for an internet community to watch films together and discuss them.

So how will this work? Each week on Thursday, I plan to pick a film and all those who are interested can watch it during the following week (I’ve chosen Thursdays because that gives you an opportunity to have a movie night during the upcoming weekend, if you so desire). Then on the following Thursday, I will make a post reviewing and discussing what I thought of the film. Everyone who watched it in the past week (or has watched it at any point in time, really), can feel free to join the discussion in the comments section of that post. At the bottom of that post, I will then tell what the movie is for the following week. Overall, I’d like this to be a pretty low-commitment opportunity for movie-lovers to discover new and old films to watch and rewatch, and to provide a location for us to discuss them. That said, if you’re not interested in a film that has been chosen for a particular week, that’s totally fine. Stop by the next week, scroll down to the end of that post, and check out what the film for that new week is, and hopefully it will be one that is of greater interest to you.

What kind of movies will we watch? All the kinds! Classics, recent blockbusters, award-winning films, and fan-favorites! The only kind of movie I won’t choose are the ones that are currently in theaters. I recognize that movie-going can be expensive, so I plan to choose only films that are available through various rental services, so that people aren’t spending a ridiculous amount of money on movies each week. I’m also completely open to suggestions! I can’t guarantee that I will choose every film that people suggest, but I will try to get around to many of them.

Now, the important question is, what movie will we start with? Well, with Civil War coming out next week, I thought I’d choose a relevant one:

THIS WEEK’S FILM: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is available for rent on Netflix DVD, Google Play, Amazon, and VidAngel.