One of the best superhero movies in a good long, and the first big hit of the summertime, makes its way to Blu-ray this week along with the first season of a smart horror TV show you really ought to give a shot if you haven’t already, and another classic western about that fabled bullet exchange known as The Gunfight at the OK Corral. On top of that — other stuff as well!
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The X-Men film franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. After a solid first entry and a brilliant part two, fans of the Marvel Comics property had to languish with a pretty muddled and misjudged third part and a phenomenally stupid origin movie spinoff. But, even despite those two movies, the cast stood out and became quite beloved, or most of them did anyway, especially Hugh Jackman who really owned the role of Wolverine and in fact has shepherded him into at least appearing in every single entry to date. A prequel (First Class) introduced folks to the X-Men’s beginnings and was by and large quite successful at doing so, showing the friendship, rivalry, and eventual nemesisship of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr. And, hey, another solo Wolverine movie wasn’t a bad thing either.
But, people were still quite wary when it was announced that Bryan Singer would be returning to the series for its seventh film overall and that it was going to be an adaptation of the much-loved Days of Future Past storyline, AND that it was going to bring together the casts of all the movies (or most of them) to tell a bi-timeline story with implications on every aspect of the cinematic universe. I mean, it’s insane how lofty Singer’s goals for the movie were, and it’s even crazier that they were met pretty astoundingly.
In the future, the Sentinels, giant robotic mutant killers (who have also begun hunting humans as well) have made the world almost entirely barren and dead. The last hope seems to be for Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send someone’s mind back in time to stop the creation of the Sentinels in the first place. And, for the purposes of movies, that person seems to be Wolverine, 1) because his healing factor will keep his mind from getting lost on the journey, and 2) because he’ll look roughly the same in the 1970s as he does now, hence Huge Action can still play him. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), now friends and allies, tell Wolverine it’ll be difficult but he’ll have to recruit their younger selves (played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) to work together at a time when they couldn’t be farther apart. And the task is to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the Sentinel’s creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) which began the problems in the first place. You got all that?
X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of my very favorite movies of the summer and, second only to X2, is my favorite of the movies in the franchise. The story works quite well, or at least within its own continuity, and the performances are all deep and rich. I’m a big fan of how Wolverine is forced to become the mentor character for Charles in the past while he works through this weird hurt-feelings triangle with Magneto and Mystique. And, as you’ve read a million times elsewhere, that scene with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is nothing short of amazing.
The Blu-ray features a decent but not remarkable array of behind the scenes featurettes and deleted scenes, but you’ll want to get it for the gorgeous HD transfer and amazing 5.1 stereo mix. Great movie, don’t miss it.
Penny Dreadful Season One
Horror television is a bumper crop these days thanks to the success of things like The Walking Dead and for a new show to be successful, it’s going to have to carve a niche of its own. Showtime’s Penny Dreadful has done this so far, I think. Created by John Logan, the eight episode season puts the horror novels and stories of 1890s Britain. It carefully weaves different mythologies, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray into the same continuity and adds in witches and werewolves and demonic possession and early medical science and the Grand Guignol theatre into a lovely melange of macabre.
The series stars Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray, the father of Stoker’s Mina Murray, who became the object of Dracula’s obsession, who has put together a team of sorts in order to track her down. These include Eva Green as a powerful psychic medium who grew up with Mina, Harry Treadaway as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant and slightly mad surgeon, and Josh Hartnett as an American sharpshooter who knows nothing of the world he’s entering, but dives in headfirst because of Green’s assurances. Also involved in the story is an Irish prostitute (Billie Piper) dying of tuberculosis who becomes Hartnett’s consort, Frankenstein’s creation (Rory Kinnear) who desperately wants revenge on his creator, and Dorian Gray himself (Reeve Carney), the immortal tempter and sexer of lots of people.
What makes this show so entertaining is how well it sets up the world of Victorian London and of the supernatural elements therein. Like the little missives that give the show its name, each episode focuses on a different aspect of the occult or of the painful histories of the characters. It’s a bloody show, but not nearly as bloody or as icky-feeling as NBC’s Hannibal, which I find especially strange; a pay-cable show is less graphically violent than network television. The performances are good and the mysteries are interesting and certain episodes do indeed chill you to the bone. Overall, excellent show for the horror crazed among us.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds good, but the only special features are the 10 or so production blogs, less than 5 minutes each. Pretty disappointing. Oh, and it also has the first two episodes of Ray Donovan on it, so Showtime is trying to hock their less popular programming. Anyway.
My Darling Clementine
Wyatt Earp might be one of the most written about figures in American history, and is certainly one who got turned into movie characters more than most. His fabled Gunfight at the OK Corral along with Doc Holliday against the Clanton Gang is the stuff of legend and myth… owing to the fact that almost none of them got it right at all, fudging timelines and people involved for the sake of drama. But, rarely has the story been as lyrical or as romantic than it is in John Ford’s 1946 take on Earp’s life, My Darling Clementine.
The movie wholly invents a person named Clementine Carter, a woman from Boston with whom Wyatt Earp (played by the great Henry Fonda) becomes involved, but she nevertheless represents a lot about the spirit of the movie version of the Old West, being both pure and spunky. Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) is also a lot different here than he is in other stories and was in real life, but Ford makes him a tragic figure and a ruffian as counterpart to Wyatt. John Ireland has the interesting distinction of playing two different characters in two different versions of the story; here he plays Billy Clanton, and 11 years later in John Sturges’ The Gunfight at the OK Corral he played the absent-here Johnny Ringo.
None of this really has to do with the movie, but rest assured that Ford’s eye for scenery and clear love of the mythology of the Old West is certainly on display here, and Fonda is perhaps the best understated western hero in movies. And, it’s a Criterion release so you can expect great special features and a gorgeous transfer. So, probably you ought to buy it.
Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection – A really great smattering of the filmmaker’s best or most lauded works (and a couple that aren’t). These are: Duel, Jaws, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Sugarland Express, 1941, Always, Jurassic Park, and The Lost World. Not too shabby.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman – Kids weren’t really clamoring for a CGI movie of an old cartoon, but they got it just the same.
Fargo Season 1 – The inaugural year of FX’s crime drama starring Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, and Allison Tolman, all of whom were nominated for Emmys. And the show won Best Miniseries, too!
Mortal Kombat Legacy II – More high-fighting action from characters from that video game series.