The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from the past, “X-Men: First Class,” in order to change a major historical event and fight in an epic battle that could save our future. . (2014)

Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies are somewhat faithful to the comics but really botch some character arcs. Everything got further butchered with Brett Ratner’s The Last Stand, which somehow made The Dark Phoenix Saga into a boring mess. I believe First Class to be the best of all the X-Men movies (go back and re-visit the first two films- they don’t hold up so well), and so I was excited to see what would happen in Days of Future Past, one of the best X-Men stories.

For the most part, I was relatively bored. Singer had a chance to retcon some things (like the fetish leather outfits), but his dark future takes mundane darkness to the extreme. The assembled cast is all sorts of impressive, but save James McAvoy, no one gets much of an arc (notice a theme here?). I think after this film, I’m done with the series, regardless of how Apocalypse turns out.

In Summer 2014, the world’s most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure “Godzilla.” From visionary new director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless. (2014)

For all the flat out of awesomeness of the third act, Godzilla has a bit of a human problem.

To be fair, that has always been the case with The King of Monsters movies. Gareth Evans has assembled a very talented cast who–with the exception of possibly Bryan Cranston–all act as if they’re in a different movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s stoic soldier character is incredibly flat and he has virtually no chemistry with his wife, Elizabeth Olsen, who is given very little to do. I’ve been impressed with Olsen’s prior performances, but big action tentpoles do not serve her talents well (perhaps she’ll fair better in next years Avengers sequel, where she’ll be reunited with Taylor-Johnson again). Ken Watanabe carries every scene with a “my God” expression on his face, and is unintentionally awful.

Am I being hard on a movie that’s about giant monsters fighting? Perhaps, but consider this: though Gareth Edwards took a very respectable approach to making a blockbuster by pacing the reveals and the overall structure akin to Jurassic Park, the audience is stuck dealing with humans we’re not invested in for the majority of the runtime. I appreciate that he made an effort to make the non monster scenes have some weight to it, but I just wished the tone was more consistent throughout the performances.

There are instances where it feels as if Evans is just being a tease with showing Godzilla, but it really makes it all that more impactful when he goes full out in the final half hour or so. I especially enjoyed how almost every monster shot was from the human’s perspective. As silly as it sounds, it added a dose of reality to a monster movie. Without cameras zipping around in every which direction, we remain tethered to one perspective for the fights, and that goes a long way from setting Edward’s film more interesting than a lot of the other maniacally shot and edited blockbusters.

In this version of Godzilla, a lot of buildings get smashed but it’s not an overly excessive amount of city damage. Edwards seems aware of the Michael Bay ADD explosion-fest that has dominated action movies over the last decade, and wants to maximize impact when something does go down. The manner in which the fights are staged is likely my favorite thing in Godzilla, as it feels like a throwback to the originals in stunted movement while also being damn near perfect CGI.

And how about Godzilla as a hero? I know it’s been done before, but it’s just flat out great. We’ve seen so many times an us vs. them scenario where the military is going in to take down something they don’t understand, but when Godzilla shows that he’s on our side, he becomes a genuine badass. I was actually more invested in him as a character than any of the humans. I just have one request when they make the next one: give me Mothra!

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne lead the cast of Neighbors, a comedy about a young couple suffering from arrested development who are forced to live next to a fraternity house after the birth of their newborn baby. Neighbors is directed by Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek). (2014)

Some slight spoilers below…

Though Neighbors provides a bunch of hearty laughs, I can’t remember the last time I saw such a poorly scripted comedy. In one scene, the leading couple get into their first fight of the film and indicate that they’re going to separate and possibly get divorced. It almost comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t make sense with everything that led up to it. In literally the next scene, they get back together, rendering a whole ten minutes of the film pointless. Neighbors has a strong central conflict, but this one was inserted solely for the sake of upping the dramatic stakes in the second act.

There are some larger points made about coming to terms with being parents and giving up the fun that comes without being younger and without those responsibilities, but they don’t resonate whatsoever. It seemed as if Neighbors shoehorned in these portions because, you know, movies are suppose to have themes and big ideas. I just have big objection to these films doing by the numbers screenwriting 101 plot points if the actors or director aren’t going to be invested in them.

That being said, there is some surprising, new talent in Neighbors. Jerrod Carmichael is a revelation, and has some of the funniest lines in the film. And there’s Zac Efron, who should no longer be held back because of the perception of being a High School Musical alum. He’s got a lot of charm and plays the snaky aspects of his character well. I miss the range Seth Rogen showed in Observe and Report, but he does stretch his shtick a bit in Neighbors. And hats off to Rose Byrne, who I’ve never particularly liked, but gives the best performance in the movie.

Neighbors is uneven and a lot of the jokes don’t land whatsoever. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but not one that I could strongly recommend.

Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (2013)

Everyone and their mother sung the praises of Frozen before I had the opportunity to watch it. Could it really be that good? Yes! I so thoroughly enjoyed the songs, characters and even the animation style that I’ve previously had aversions to. Josh Gad (who is another Book of Mormon alumn with composer Robert Lopez) is the highlight as Olaf.

Depicts the struggles of a compassionate twenty-something contending with some unexpected life developments while working as a supervisor at a home for at-risk teens. Grace (Brie Larson) has dedicated her life to helping kids who have slipped through the cracks of the system. Committed to her job and in love with kindhearted co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), she’s still struggling to make sense of her own troubled past when she learns that her life is about to change forever. (2013)

Based on the logline of Short Term 12, you’d think you would be in for a PSA type film with some big message. With what little I knew about this movie, I at least assumed it would be just that. I am so happy to say that not only am I wrong, but Short Term 12 is one of the most consistently excellent films I’ve seen in a while.

I’ve always been a fan of Brie Larson (for full disclosure, I have a super duper crush on her too), but she’s never been as good as she is here. Her chemistry with the outstanding John Gallagher Jr. is incredibly natural. The teen actors are hands down the best young ensemble I’ve seen put to film. Though I could do without the fluffy score, I’m glad Joel P. West didn’t go overboard with schmaltz.

Short Term 12 is partly so good for all the beats it doesn’t do. I feel strongly that you would have to be downright cynical to consider this melodramatic or preachy (though I imagine some will). I mentioned earlier that the film is consistent– when’s the last time you saw a film without one false note or performance that minute to minute, act to act was just across the board good? That’s what Short Term 12 is for me, and I can’t recommend watching and watching with a tissue in hand enough.

We’ve always known that Spider-Man’s most important battle has been within himself: the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. But in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker finds that a greater conflict lies ahead. It’s great to be Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). For Peter Parker, there’s no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). (2014)

Oh, Mark Webb.

Count me as one of the many fans of 500 Days of Summer. Webb made a solid and original romantic comedy led by two charming performances. That’s one of the things he does well as a director– get good performances at of his actors. So what happened in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? This film is a train wreck that sets comic films back twenty years, all the way to the days of the awful Schumacher Batman & Robin film.

Spider-Man 2 fails in virtually every way: the script is so ham-fisted, jumbled and inconsistent in tone that it feels as if the audience is watching a quick succession of random scenes. The way in which they changed how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man completely undermines what makes the character who he is. And Jamie Foxx… what are you doing? Paul Giammatti at least plays Rhino as a cartoon buffoon and it works. But Electro/Max is so incredibly over the top that I cringed whenever Foxx was on screen.

The score may be one of the worst I’ve heard in all of film. Just abysmal. I’m not really offering anything constructive or worthwhile here, and it’s because I have such a large disdain for this film. I can not recommend it by any means, not even as a “hate watch”- it just won’t entertain you at all.

Steve Rogers continues his journey as the super-powered American soldier who’s grasping to find his place in a modern world after being frozen in ice since WWII with this Marvel Studios sequel. Chris Evans returns to star, with Community director/producers Joe and Anthony Russo helming. (2014)

For movies involving superhero characters, I’m not sure what will top the joy of seeing the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes come together for the first time in The Avengers. All the meticulous planning that Marvel and Kevin Feige put in to making the seemingly impossible work ended up reaching a level of success they may not have even anticipated. The reason I didn’t use the term “superhero genre” up top was because these Marvel comic heroes and villains are just the jumping off point for working within various tropes and established genres (such as the magical world of Thor and the technology driven world of Iron Man). In the case of The Winter Soldier, it’s a spy/political thriller that just happens to featured costumed heroes. But in so many ways, it’s more than that: This entry of Captain America is a straight up damn good movie.

The Russo Brothers displayed a fine sense of filming action on the TV show Community, but I did not know they were capable of doing it on such a big canvas. For whatever reason (I can’t at least identify why from a storytelling perspective), Steve Rogers is a lot more lethal this time around in hand to hand combat. The big set pieces are pleasently original and for once it seems like Marvel hasn’t gone the cheap route. But the action alone wasn’t going to make this a great movie: in addition to fantastic performances across the board, The Winter Soldier has real stakes the audience can invest in.

The easy thing to do would be to just throw in a few curveballs and plot twists and call it a thriller out of the mold of the 70s Robert Redford classics. Though in the third act (Marvel so rarely- with the exception of The Avengers- gets these right) there are some twists that felt one step too many, the majority are earned and in turn cause the characters to reevaluate their motives, their actions, themselves, and each other. That’s plain old good storytelling! And I make that point of emphasis not to disparage the superhero films that came before, but to highlight that this can be the new standard.

The Winter Soldier does have the benefit of having a few previous films within the Marvel Universe help set up the aforementioned stakes, but it’s still a success in its own right. All Marvel movies feature some form of humor to acknowledge the inherent silliness, but the humor here is a lot sharper and smarter than any of their previous entries. In addition to action, the Russo brothers know how to pull off comedy very well.

In my mind there’s no two ways about it: Chris Evans is and will always be Captain America the way that Christopher Reeves will always be Superman. There are fine performances from Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson, but Evans is the anchor of the movie and puts in his best performance as Cap of his three appearances. The Winter Soldier may not have the cultural impact of The Dark Knight nor the unforgettable cinematic experience of The Avengers, but it is by leaps and miles the best film that just happens to feature superhero characters.

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