This week’s Viewing Diary is a fairly simple one, thanks to the holiday weekend. The only new release discussed is X-Men: Days of Future Past, and as for the old stuff you can find brief reactions to the original Godzilla (or Gojira) from 1954, and the Italian road comedy Il Sorpasso. Stay tuned to the blog this week for a full review of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, as well as the first installment of the Summer of Cruise, which will focus on early films such as Risky Business and Top Gun.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Dir: Bryan Singer
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the kind of movie that has so much plot to get through that it’s a wonder it isn’t three hours long, though perhaps it should have been. In his return to the series, Bryan Singer does a wonderful job of bouncing between the various stories and timelines he’s attempting to juggle, but such care went into the story of this film that everything else became an afterthought. One of the great assets of the X-Men franchise is a diverse cast of characters played by a group of charismatic actors, but in this overstuffed plot machine they are too often pushed to the side. Days of Future Past is impressive in many ways, but frustrating in others, and like many superhero movies these days it ultimately feels too much like a means to an end.
The film’s greatest sin is that it requires audiences to be wholly familiar with and in invested in the stories of the major characters going in. This film lives and dies off those positive feelings, but ultimately does almost nothing to move these figures forward. It physically presents the characters, has them do what needs to be done in order to move the plot forward, and then thanks them for their trouble. The only sequence that has any real bite to it is a Pentagon breakout featuring the newly introduced Quicksilver (Evan Peters). It’s an exciting, fun, and innovative several minutes, and there’s a palpable sense of lost potential when the film chooses to remove him from the story. Even Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, the crown jewel of this series, ultimately doesn’t get much to do except stand on the sidelines and watch everything go down. It’s the kind of blockbuster where the stakes may ostensibly be high, but the film itself seems inconsequential.
I had only a passing familiarity with the history of Godzilla when I saw Gareth Edwards’ new film a couple weeks back, and while I have no intention of watching every film that bears the infamous creature’s name I figured it might be good to take a look at the Japanese movie that started it all. I more or less got what I was promised: an impressively made and haunting monster film that so brilliantly captures the anxiety of the post-atom bomb world. It also made me appreciate how skillful Edwards was at recapturing the mood of Honda’s original, right down to starting the action off with a disaster based on a real event. (In the case of the 1954 film, it is the contamination of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru. For Edwards, it was quite plainly Fukushima.) Either way, that Honda was able to make a film that still holds considerable power these 60 years later is a massive achievement. There’s a reason Godzilla holds such fascination with audiences, and it isn’t just because he fought the Smog Monster.
Of all the films ever made featuring an infuriating car horn, Il Sorpasso just might be the best of the bunch. Recently released by Criterion, Dino Risi’s comedy is a wonderfully entertaining road movie, featuring two fantastic performances by Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant. It’s Gassman who steals the show, playing the bombastic and spontaneous Bruno who travels across Italy with new acquaintance Roberto (Trintignant). The audience watches as Bruno blusters his way through one interaction after another, alternately repelling and intriguing those around him. The chemistry between Trintignant and Gassman comes via a formula most film viewers have seen many times before, but more often than not Il Sorpasso absolutely pops of the screen, celebrating Bruno’s way of life while also slowly revealing the darkness behind it. Be sure to seek this film out if you can.