Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

It's been a long time since I've been as excited for a movie like I've been for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Which is saying something considering all of the movies I've looked forward to in the past few years, like Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and basically anything with the "Marvel" stamp on it. Maybe X-Men: Days of Future Past really hit me because it was based on one of the most memorable comic book stories of all time? Or just because it's a new X-Men movie and I'm a sucker for the mutants. Either way, I found myself ridiculously happier as May 23rd drew closer. Despite my excitement, I had to wait two addition days before seeing it, opting for a Sunday morning viewing as opposed to Friday night. And with the exception of the movie watching experience (I'll get into that later), the movie was everything I wanted it to be.

As I mention, "Days of Future Past" ranks as one of the greatest storylines in comic books, up there with "The Dark Knight Returns". Written by Chris Claremont in 1981, it was the first story that showed the bleak future that mutant-kind faces, all because of a few bad choices by a few bad people. The film adaptation differs greatly from the comic story but that doesn't make it bad. In fact, the updates managed to give the movie far more depth than the comic book. After all, "Days of Future Past" only spanned two issues while the film had a strong run time of 131 minutes.

The highlights of the movie were, without a doubt, the performances of James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence. As Professor X and Mystique, their friendship spanned the previous film X-Men: First Class, and we've seen how Mystique had begun to fall away from Xavier's ideology. In Days of Future Past, Mystique all but goes off the deep end for the sake on mutant-kind. Xavier is forced to come to terms with it and tries to reel her back in. The emotion the pair put into their scenes really adds a feeling of credence to the scenes, even more so than the chemistry McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) had in First Class.

Also great was Nicholas Hoult. As Hank McCoy, he at first seems to be relegated to Xavier's handmaiden during a rough patch in his life. However, we see the Beast come to the surface many times over the course of the movie and he adds a great deal of fun to it. It's also nice to see the interactions he has with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) as comic fans are well aware of the friendship the two have.

X-Men: Days of Future Past gives audiences a plethora of brand new mutants. During the future scenes, we see and almost entirely new team of X-Men including Bishop, Sunfire, and Warpath. Though this team does little for the plot of the film, they are awesome to watch on screen. But the one I was looking forward to the most is Blink, the mutant teleporter who became famous during the "Age of Apocalypse". As one of my favorite X-Men, I've been psyched to see her in action ever since she was revealed to be in it. Her powers made for some cool visuals, opening up portals in midair to allow Warpath various vantages from which to attack. Here's hoping the filmmakers decide to introduce her into the true film cannon, maybe during 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse, which somehow would seem fitting.

But let's not forget the biggest surprise of the entire movie: Quicksilver. Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, was widely criticized for his look since the reveal on the Empire Magazine cover, reviled by many of the comic book purists out there. He plays a pivotal part in the movie but sadly, doesn't get a lot of screen time, but that's OK as what time he does have, he really makes the movie a lot of fun. Director Bryan Singer manages to dive into Quicksilver's powers and crafted an in-depth scene that shows audiences what it would be like to have super speed. Hopefully, the success of Quicksilver will mean that we get to see more of him down the road, maybe even alongside his sister, Scarlet Witch. (Not likely, considering their inclusion in Avengers: Age of Ultron but one can hope.)

Strangely, the lowest point of the film was the "villain", Bolivar Trask, played by the talented Peter Dinklage. I didn't find anything particularly bad about how Dinklage portrayed Trask, the inventor of the mutant-hunting Sentinels. In fact, I felt Trask was remarkably underused. He was less of a character and more of a plot-point, used just as an excuse to bring the dystopian, mutant-hating future to fruition. It made sense, in the end, to have Trask be the catalyst as opposed to Senator Kelly, as was the case in the comic story, since it gave them a way to explain the entire Sentinel program without adding an extra 40 minutes to the run time.

Even though I had fun during X-Men: Days of Future Past, I don't think I enjoyed it as much as I should have. This I attribute to the rude asshole sitting behind me talking throughout the entire movie. This guy just would not shut up, feeling the need to dazzle his friend with comic book knowledge, like saying "Bishop" every time he was on screen. He also apparently knew that Quicksilver is Magneto's son in the comics. How do I know that? because when Quicksilver was asking Magneto how he ended up in prison, this guy kept saying "What did you do, Dad? What did you do, Dad?" And the most annoying part was how many times he said "Shut it down" during Quicksilver's iconic scene. It wasn't just Quicksilver that this guy was fascinated with; he also felt the need to laugh during the most poignant scenes in the movie.

Wolverine: I need you to promise me that you will put the X-Men together:
Xavier: I promise.
Douchebag Behind Me: Ha ha ha ha!

I just don't get it. Not to mention the fact that he left before the end of the credits. I mean, who does that in a Marvel movie?

Anyway, despite the interruptions, I really loved X-Men: Days of Future Past, enough to say that it's probably the best in the series. For a movie series that suffered from a lot of continuity problems, Singer and company took the opportunity to fix a few of them, as well as fixing a few of the poor mistakes made by past directors. And even though it had a multitude of mutants, Days of Future Past didn't bog itself down in bad storytelling like X-Men: The Last Stand did. It managed to remain focused on its purpose and follow it through, resulting in one of, if not, the best movies of 2014.

Side note: my wife loved this movie so much that she wants to do a movie marathon when it comes out on 3D BluRay. Win-win for this guy!


Free Comic Book Day 2014

These past couple of months I feel like I've been neglecting my blog. It's not been intentional; it just seems that I lack the energy and attention to properly update. Case in point, this year's Free Comic Book Day happened more than 2 weeks ago and I still haven't put together my thoughts. Even though I feel like the statute of limitations is nearly up on it, I'm gonna talk about it anyway. Why? Because it's a pretty big deal for the comic book industry and I have a whole bunch of photos to share with you.

Don't know what Free Comic Book Day is? Well, I'll tell ya. Starting in 2001, Free Comic Book Day is held on the first Saturday of every May and is an initiative to help get people into comic stores. Publishers like Marvel, DC Comics, Image, and Archaia print specially labelled issues and distribute them to comic shops to be given away to anyone that walks into the store. As the years have passed, comic stores have been making a bigger and bigger deal of Free Comic Book Day to make it a special event and bring in even more people. From what I've seen in the years that I've been participating, FCBD has blossomed into an amazing annual event.

I make a big deal out of FCBD personally, hitting up as many shops as I can in one day. Even though the draw is the free comics, I always try to spread a little bit out to the different comic book stores. I never go with the intention of getting the free stuff and leaving; that would be a dick move considering the shops have to pay for the free books. Besides, there's always something that I would drop a few bucks on and this year is no exception. So, without further ado...

Stop Number 1: The Hobby Shop, Aberdeen, NJ
The Hobby Shop isn't a comic book store. They actually specialize in model trains and paraphernalia, but they do offer a wide range of goods, like model cars and airplanes, learning toys, art supplies and more. It's a cute store, one that caters to almost every hobby under the sun. They have a small section in the front of the store dedicated to comic books and super heroes, like Funko Pop toys, plushies and action figures. Because of this, they partake in Free Comic Book Day and take it rather seriously.

The last few years they've had a couple of comic book creators there for signings during their business hours. Dave Ryan and Joe Martino were on hand to promote the industry, sell some sketches and get kids excited for super heroes. They've also arranged a number of sales, including certain items for 50% off. One thing that surprised me was that they had the Free Comic Book Day Heroclix, the Batman and Joker two-pack, available. Throughout the day, this was the only place I went to that had them. Though it's a small celebration for the event, they at least put a hell of a lot of effort into it.

The haul from the Hobby Shop

Stop Number 2: Little Shop of Comics, Scotch Plains, NJ
Little Shop of Comics is one of my favorite comic shops to visit. The staff is always friendly and helpful and the place is clean and well organized. They have a wide selection of graphic novels and trade paperbacks so I always know that if I'm looking for something specific, I can find it there.

Of all of the comic shops in the area, Little Shop makes the biggest spectacle of Free Comic Book Day. Each year they seem to have a group of cosplayers (mostly Star Wars from the 501st Legion) outside greeting customers, waving to traffic, and bringing attention to the store. And it clearly helps as they had a line outside to get in.

This year, they also had creator Tim Yates in store for a signing of his independent series Anne Bonnie. By chance my wife picked to the first issue thinking it looked interesting and as we were checking out, the owner directed us to the back to where Yates was situated. He was interacting with a few kids, sketching for them and taking pictures with customers. Once again, another creator trying to bring a good face to the comic industry. It was great to see.

Our loot from Little Shop.

Stop Number 3: Rogue Comics, Cranford, NJ
This shop is one that I have been too the least but it's a nice little shop. The employees were all very friendly and attentive to their customers. The store itself is somewhat disorganized but they have a great selection of action figures and back issue comics, which made for a nice balance. One thing that I was impressed with was the Heroclix they had on display in the center of the shop. They were selling individual Clix for 3 bucks a pop, which seemed pretty reasonable if you were looking to expanding your Heroclix lineup. Also, they have a life-sized replica of R2-D2 and a Stormtrooper in the center of the store and a few replica Star Wars helmets for sale. Of all of the stores, I spent the least amount here but that's not a knock at the store. It really is pretty good.

What we reaped from Rogue Comics.

I had to grab this from their site as I
forgot to snap a pic of the storefront.
Stop Number 4: JC Comics, North Plainfield, NJ
For years, JC was my regular comic shop. This is where I had my pull list and visited there every few weeks. The owner is a nice guy that takes the time to chat up each of his customers and his parents are found in the shop regularly and are a sweet couple. JC has a definite focus on back issues, which you don't find in a lot of stores, but also action figures, statues and a ton of other hobbyist odds and ends. He was running a promotion of a selection of $5 trade paperbacks and was giving away a hard-cover collection of Marvel's The Dark Tower with every $25 or more purchase, so he was definitely trying to take advantage of the FCBD traffic. It seemed to work out well as the tiny store was full of people, some browsing the new issues, some looking through the trades. It had been over a year since I'd been to JC (I missed out on the chance to enjoy Free Comic Book Day last year due to a family wedding) but it was nice to be back.

No clever alliteration for 'JC'. This is what we bought.

Stop Number 5: Elite Battlegrounds, Green Brook, NJ
Right down the street from JC Comics, Elite Battlegrounds is the newest comic shop around. They specialize is trading card games and, as we walked in, this was evident as the employees were talking to a customer about Magic: The Gathering. They have a wall of new issue comics and seemed to have a collection of older issues in short boxes set up in the back of the store to grab a little extra from FCBD. I tried to look through them a bit as most of them were priced at 50 cents or less but they were hard to browse as the boxes were overfilled. I quickly gave up and just browsed the rest of the store, stopping at the super awesome giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Funko Pop toy from their Ghostbusters line. I didn't even hesitate grabbing it up and regret nothing.

What was really cool, though, was as we were checking out, the owner had come out of the stock room with a box of Pez dispensers to restock the shelf. He handed me and my wife a Spider-Man and an Iron Man Pez, telling us that they were on the house. Oh, I guess I should mention that we were dressed like this...

Pictured: Dorks.
That gesture was completely unexpected but so very much appreciated. If you're in Jersey and are looking for some place to fill your gaming needs, check out Elite Battlegrounds.

What we got at Elite Battlegrounds.

Stop Number 6: Comic Fortress, Sommerville, NJ
I hadn't been to Comic Fortress since FCBD 2012 and was surprised to see that it was in a new location. Now, since I got back into comics around 2001, this is the second time Comic Fortress had moved storefronts. Despite that, the store is pretty cool, with a large selection of action figures and statues. To help promote FCBD, they had a few young girls dressed in super hero costumes interacting with people as they passed along on the street. One benefit that Comic Fortress has that the other stores don't (with the exception of Rogue) is that it is on a road that gets a lot of foot traffic throughout the day. The store sees hundreds, if not upwards of a thousand, of people passing by each day so that kind of publicity is sure to help. And it must have as when we walked in, a woman was asking the clerk what were good books to get for her son who was starting to collect comics and really enjoyed the Avengers. So to see that gave me hope that FCBD was a success.

One reason we go to Comic Fortress is because of their statues. My wife looks forward to FCBD as it gives her the chance to expand her collection. Normally, she doesn't buy statues and busts as they tend to be pricey, even though she likes them. But every year on FCBD, she makes it a point to pick up a new one. It's kind of her thing now.

Our newest bust addition from Comic Fortress.

Stop Number 7: Classic Comics, Rahway, NJ
This one wasn't part of our route; it was just close to home and we decided to stop. We normally leave out Classic because...well, I hate it. But we figured what the hell.

Classic Comics is an absolute shithole when it comes to comic shops. The store is a disorganized mess with long boxes stacked haphazardly on rickety old folding tables. They have a large selection of back issues but good luck browsing through them; not only are they not in any kind of logical order but they also have boxes of statues and toys stacked on top of them. This isn't just a "we're restocking and just placed that there until it gets into its proper place" kind of deal. Every single time I've been in that store, the back issues have been covered in boxes.

This was taken in 2011;
It doesn't look any better today.
Looking for new issues? They line the wall but even those aren't organized. My wife picked up a DC comic that she said sounded interesting from the wall labeled "New". It was a #2 issue and she was trying to find #1. I pointed out to her that the issue was from 2005 and wished her good luck. I also pointed out a few other "new" issues the store was advertising, like from Dark Reign and Civil War.

The front window was stacked up with discarded long boxes, I assume to prep for their "Long Box Sale" that they were holding the following week. I get that, but it made the store look messier than it normally is, which is saying something. The irony is that they have a lot of room behind the register where they could have stored the boxes until the sale...but that was so over piled with back issues and other inventory that there's no longer any room. And good luck finding a price on anything. if it's not a cover price, it's not marked.

They expect people to buy that stuff.
Like, with money.
I will say that at least they dusted. The last time I was in there, roughly two years ago, they had an Angel action figure hanging from the ceiling covered in an inch of dust. If you're looking for a comic shop in central Jersey, I've listed six better options above than Classic Comics. It pains me to rip a comic shop to shreds like this but they deserve it.

All in all, this year's Free Comic Book Day was a rousing success. The best part about it is the natural promotion that they get from the movie industry as well. Each year, FCBD always lands the day after a high-profile super hero movie hits theaters; this year it was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, last year it was Iron Man 3, and on it's been for years. If only that relationship could be used better to get more people into comic book shops, the industry would have a huge influx of sales.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to what 2015 has in store.


TV Review: 24: Live Another Day

Jack is back! How many times have you heard that phrase in the last few weeks? Even if you're a fan of the show 24 as I am, it got to be a little repetitive to the point of being annoying. Despite the over-aggressive promotional blitz Fox took to get the word out of the new season, I am truly happy that Jack Bauer, in the form of Kiefer Sutherland, is back on the air, fighting terrorists and and kicking all kinds of ass.

24: Live Another Day is a bit of a misnomer as the new season is only twelve episodes long, working out to be about twelve hours. It still follows the show's real-time format. This time, Jack is in London England, not ironically at the same time that the President of the United States is visiting to push the idea of a US-controlled drone base on British land upon the Prime Minister. Given what Jack did during last season, kidnapping ex-President Charles Logan and murdering Russian diplomats, he is a wanted criminal so finding him on-shore is a big success for CIA team station there.

The real-time format isn't the only part of the show that's rolled over into the new season. It seems the head of operations of the CIA team, Steve Harris (played by Benjamin Bratt) is just as inept as some of the people chosen to lead CTU in previous seasons. Numerous times during the first two hours did he refuse to listen to members of his team, leading to disaster for the CIA and complete missteps. Seeing this so early into the season got me a little annoyed as the clear idiocy of some of the characters was one of the most irritating things about the show. It's clearly meant to prove to the audience that Jack is just "that good" but fails to make anything exciting. Hell, if the CIA was really that incompetent, then I could be "that good".

One thing that I really liked was the strong female characters of the new season. Yvonne Strahovski plays Kate Morgan, a disgraced agent who is in the midst of being transferred back to the States after it's learned her husband was found guilty of selling secrets to the Chinese. She spends half of the first episode moping around as she packs up her things and has her clearance taken away from her but eventually steps into a role where her gut instinct outshines those around her. It was nice to see a new woman in the show that has the fortitude to lead a team that isn't Chloe O'Brian. Granted, 24 has never shied away from strong women in past seasons but most of them have still taken a backseat to the men. My only complaint about Kate is the backstory they pegged her with, making her an instant pariah because of what her husband did.

Michelle Fairley also makes a couple of brief appearances in the first two episodes. Best known for her role as Catelyn Stark on Games of Thrones, Fairley's character is mostly played in the shadows, pulling the strings of the nefarious plot against the American President (or so it seems up to this point). It's not at all clear just how she plays into the story but the fact that a woman is leading the evil side is pretty bold. 24 hadn't had a strong female antagonist since Nina Myers of seasons 1 and 2. And just knowing that Fairley is attached to the show gets me even more excited for what's to come.

But Jack Bauer isn't the only returning character this season. Chloe is back and with a pretty severe makeover. It's revealed that she served prison time for helping Jack escape custody last season and since her release, she's been working with an Wiki-Leaks-type organization, hacking into databases, gathering secret intel and dispersing it on the internet. Despite the new look, Mary Lynn Rajskub plays Chloe as she always has; curt, cocksure and intelligent. At this point, no season of 24 would be complete without her.

But also returning are Audrey Raines and James Heller (Kim Raver and William Devane). We last saw this pair back in season six when Jack, who was romantically linked to Audrey, left her after a grueling ordeal with the Chinese government. This season, Heller is the new President and Audrey is married to his Chief of Staff. Neither of them know about Jack's appearance in London in the first two episodes so it should be interesting to see how this plot plays out. (Question: Given that Devane plays a President here as well as in The Dark Knight Rises, does that mean the two exist in the same continuity?)

It was surprising that 24 was cancelled just after season 8. But clearly the show had a strong following and a tight-knit production team and was able to cobble together at least a half-season of story. And even though it's technically misnamed with just twelve episodes, I think that it could work better than a full season. One thing that marred a lot of the early seasons of 24 was senseless filler, subplots used to pad out the episodes (the scene with Kim Bauer facing down a mountain lion immediately springs to mind). By trimming it down to half the episodes, the show is able to really concentrate on the important storyline. And judging by the first two episodes, it looks like the writers have a good handle on it.

So, once again, Jack is back. Which is a good thing since prime time just wasn't the same without him.


Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

All last week, reviews for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have been trickling in at a steady pace. Just off the bat, the movie is notable as it kicks off the summer movie season, an event that has generally been held by a Marvel-themed character for the last few years. Despite that, most of the early reviews have been lukewarm at best, disastrous at worst. The tone of these reviews had gotten me a little nervous for the fate of the movie, which I took to heart as Spider-Man is pretty much my favorite super hero and I hold a lot of love for the first Amazing Spider-Man. Some reviewers were even going so far as to call it "the Batman & Robin of the Spider-Man movies". (Not to mention this review in particular from someone who seems to hate comic books, movies, and life in general. How does one get to be so miserable?)

After getting the chance to see ASM2, I must say that whomever compared this movie to Batman & Robin is clearly a moron. Or just unnecessarily hating on Amazing Spider-Man 2 for some reason. The only comparisons that can be made between the two films is the inclusion of three of the hero's Rogues Gallery; Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane in the Batman case, Electro, Green Goblin, and the Rhino in Spidey's.

For starters, my favorite part about Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the character arcs that each of the villains went through. To a lesser extent with the Rhino, each of them has a satisfying introduction and an understandable breaking point. Both Electro and Green Goblin (who is never actually referred to by that name) have had everything taken away from them and both felt spurned by Spider-Man after reaching out to him for help. Clearly, Spider-Man draws both of their rage. It's a simplistic way to work them into the Spidey villain-hood but it was effective.

What's great about ASM2 is that it makes Peter Parker as important to the movie as Spider-Man. Equal time, if not more, is given to Peter's life: his relationship with Gwen Stacy, with Aunt May, and with his parents. Peter and Spider-Man are both still haunted by the ghost of Captain Stacy, who gave his life to help Spider-Man in the first film. Breaking his promise to Captain Stacy, Peter has continued to date Gwen and his guilt manifests itself in visions of Captain Stacy everywhere. I loved how director Marc Webb handled this aspect of their relationship as it was a visual reminder of why Peter is so indecisive about being with Gwen, which mirrored the Peter/Mary Jane relationship of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films. However, in Raimi's version, Peter just couldn't seem to make up his mind without the psychological reminders of why.

But my favorite part of the movie was Peter's parents. Hinted at in the first film, this one delves into the project that Richard Parker was working on when he was forced to leave Peter with his brother and disappear. Peter's interest in finding out what happened to his parents leads to an amazing (no pun intended [OK, well, maybe a little]) scene with Aunt May, pouring out her heart to Peter and venting her anger at Richard for what he did to his son. It's a really touching scene, one that elevates Aunt May from "doting aunt with a heart problem" to "loving guardian, care-giver, and surrogate mother". One aspect of the Peter Parker character is his devotion to Aunt May (even going so far as to make a deal with the devil to save her life in the comic storyline "One More Day"), and this scene perfectly illustrates the believability of that relationship.

The film makes so many good choices with its story and characters but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Like anything else, it had its flaws, like the Rhino. For the most part, I was pleased with how the Rhino was worked into the movie but I didn't care for the suit itself. From the early trailers I thought that it would be a decent take on the character but seeing it in full glory was less than stellar. Also, the design for the Green Goblin left much to be desired. Dane Dehaan did a great job with Harry and his emotional breakdown which carried over well to the Goblin, but the look of the Goblin was just... It wasn't good. Another thing that bothered me was the setting. The entirety of the film takes place just after Peter and Gwen graduate from high school. In New York, schools get out in late May to mid-June, so just before the summer. Meanwhile, every scene features Peter and Gwen in full jackets, with Peter often wearing his wool skullcap. That's a bit of a nitpick, I'll admit, but it was pretty distracting.

Though The Amazing Spider-Man 2 worked pretty much by the numbers, it was an excessively fun ride. The CGI was on-point and the 3D was very impressive. The story took a few turns that I wasn't expecting and the film offered quite a few guest stars that any fan of the comic would appreciate. It was apparent that Sony was setting up their spin-off films to rival the continuity Marvel established in their films but most of them felt natural enough. There was a bit of shoehorning and I lost count of how many times they said the word "venom" but I'm willing to overlook that. At the end of it, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a well-crafted film with great emotional impact and offers 130 minutes of fun, which is more than I can ask for.
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