Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Filmdog Weekly #14 (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bad Neighbours)

Welcome again to Filmdog Weekly. It's been a couple of weeks since our last post but happily we're back with a couple of cracking new releases in X-Men Days of Future Past and Bad Neighbours...

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Greenwich Picturehouse)
'Sequel to the prequel to the second sequel'

X-Men First Class provided a much needed boost to the ailing franchise following some underwhelming efforts, cleverly casting some fresh-faced A-Listers to play the younger versions of our favourite mutants. Days of Future Past goes a web-footed step further by combining the two worlds in an X-Men mash-up and the result is a slick, intelligent conspiracy flick that unleashes it's Adamantium claws without quite going full berserker.

In a dystopian future where mutants and their sympathisers are hunted down by Sentinels, robotic guardians that can adapt to counter the powers of each mutant, a small group of rebels are hiding out in China in a bid to avoid detection, however they know that time is running out. Professor X (Patrick Stewart), now working alongside old friend / arch enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen), proposes sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to the seventies in order to stop an assassination attempt, and by doing so, change the course of history so that the Sentinel programme doesn't come into existence.

There are a whole host of time travel films which fall down on the crux of their scientific logic but this one neatly side-steps that problem by not over-thinking it. Wolverine doesn't physically go back in time, rather his consciousness is beamed back into his old body from 1973 by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) who sends him there by cradling his head in her hands and using her mutant gift of 'phasing' (the time travel element is a convenient macguffin). Once there he tracks down the young professor (James McAvoy) and convinces him to help him stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from her one-woman mission to kill weapons developer Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Along the way they rescue Magneto (Michael Fassbender) from a maximum-security prison with the help of lightning-fast teenage delinquent Peter (Evan Peters playing the un-named Quicksilver) who takes the prize for the film's best scene - a super slow-motion set piece shot from his point of view as our heroes stare down the barrels of several loaded guns.

As the Professor, Wolverine, Beast and Magneto attempt to track down Mystique, back in the future the other X-Men come under siege from a Sentinel onslaught and it's only a matter of time before they get to Kitty and Logan who hold the key to their continued existence. The peril factor is upped a notch as several key X-Men are dispatched in various interesting ways and we must hope that our young guns from the seventies can complete the mission before it's too late.

It's a very fine sequel to First Class which itself was a much needed change of direction. Days of Future Past enables those much-loved characters from the original films to become relevant again. Just as it appears he was about to jump it, Wolverine has punched his claws through the sharks head. There are a few issues, such as the grandstanding ending in which McAvoy's Professor once again unleashes his not-so-mutant power of urging rationality. I'm starting to get a little tired of his constant 'please-don't-be-bad' routine complete with 'Groovy Baby' accent. The film's dialogue-to-fighting ratio is also tipped a little too heavily in the balance of the former and it would have been nice to see Wolverine let loose his claws a little more. Nonetheless it's very entertaining with several great scenes and plenty of snappy dialogue, ultimately opening the door for a brand new series of franchise films that could go either way: more of the younger years or a return to the original cast? My guess is probably a bit of both.

* * * *

Bad Neighbours (Greenwich Picturehouse)
'Everybody needs bad neighbours...'

Seth Rogen has been on something of a downward spiral since reinventing the stoner comedy with 2007's double bill of Superbad and Knocked Up but happily I can say that Bad Neighbours (Neighbors in the US) is a return to form for the grizzly bear-voiced Canadian. Rogen stars alongside Rose Byrne as new parents struggling to adapt to their increased responsibilities while battling to rid their nice suburban neighbourhood of Zac Effron's fraternity who have just moved in next door.

It's a transitional period in the lives of Mac and Kelly Radner as the mundane reality of parenthood is foisted upon them. Opportunities for fun and excitement are few and far between and so when a bus full of hot teenagers turn up and move their fraternity into the house next door, they cannot mask their inward enthusiasm for the idea.

At first everything is great as the Radner's enjoy a wild night of partying, letting loose their pent-up parental frustrations in a haze of smoke and alcohol while bonding with their young cohorts, who realise that these 'old dudes' (they're in their early 30's) can still be cool. 

Inevitably it all turns sour as the party never stops for Delta Psi, causing endless sleepless nights for their neighbours (but seemingly nobody else in the street) who eventually break their promise to frat-president Teddy (Effron) by calling the cops. From that point it becomes all-out war as the frat brotherhood set out to make their neighbours' lives a misery while the Radners come up with some dirty tricks of their own to try and get Delta Psi expelled from college.

I didn't think I'd enjoy Bad Neighbours but it's actually very good. It had me laughing out loud on several occasions and reminded me of another great frat-comedy in 2003's Old School. Rogen does his usual schtick as the sensitive man-child and Rose Byrne is rather brilliant as his feisty Aussie wife. What's refreshing is that she isn't overshadowed by the boys. This is more of a cross-gender buddy comedy and she's just as foul-mouthed and irresponsible as Rogen, getting her fair share of gags and I thought the pair of them were great. 

The fraternity brotherhood are a fine bunch of misfits too. Zac Effron seems to get better as his career progresses having shaken off the preppy Highschool Musical tag to deliver some fine performances in recent years (see Parkland and The Paperboy). He's still got the poster-boy looks ("He looks like something a gay guy designed in a laboratory") but has matured into a very fine actor and he reminds me of a young Jon Hamm. His frat-house president, Teddy, is a complex character and Effron gives depth to what could have easily been portrayed as a meat-headed asshole, injecting some likeability underneath his brutish exterior. Dave Franco excels as Teddy's right hand man Pete, the two of them sharing a number of scenes that border on the homo-erotic. Their brotherhood is made up of some fine young comedy actors including Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael and Submarine's Craig Roberts who gets a bizarre cameo as a whistle-blowing Pledge known as 'Assjuice'.

Some scenes can be a little too much (Rogen 'milking' Byrne's breasts) but on the whole it's a very funny, character-driven comedy.

* * * * 

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