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New films: X-Men Days of Future Past, Blended

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X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer

Most viewers of the latest X-Men chapter will be too young to remember Patrick Duffy, as Bobby Ewing, appear in the shower in the original “Dallas” TV series, thus annulling an entire season of the show as nothing more than a character’s dream. If they were older, they might feel more familiar with the odd let down feeling that accompanies this new film.

There’s an obvious marketing appeal to time travel as a narrative device – not least because you can co-mingle a young cast and an older cast, playing the same characters, and attract fans of both sets of actors. It also opens plot possibilities where one can revisit places and times and even play them out again with a different twist. But the problem with any of these tricks, as with the “Dallas” approach, is that they diminish the importance and significance of death itself as a narrative element. If time can be turned backwards and characters can be brought back to life by revisiting them before their deaths, why worry about characters dying in the first place. And this is in a genre where lead characters already tend to feel invulnerable, causing the rare deaths to carry extra impact.

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The whole of “X-Men: days of Future Past” feels like a manipulative attempt to reboot the entire series from within, in order to get us back to the original cast of characters, half of whom had died along the way. In order to do that, you need a mutant with time travel capability and a bleak enough future to make traveling back in time seem necessary – and that’s what we’re given with a future in which both mutants and humans are being killed off by super “Sentinel” machines.

There’s very little here that isn’t predictable, given that premise, even for somebody who isn’t steeped in the comic book stories. Everything in the story exists in service to the grand reboot. It’s not that the film is dull along the way, it’s actually quite fun and engaging most of the time, largely because the characters and their interactions are well formed and thought out – but it still feels like an exercise, a narrative means to an end.

It’s fun to watch James McAvoy as the younger Charles Xavier during a period in which he didn’t quite have his act together. It’s especially fun to watch Evan Peters as Quicksilver, living life faster than everybody else in the room (he has the film’s scene-stealing moment). And there’s a pleasant familiarity re-encountering others – even those thought lost forever (and perhaps better left lost). But there’s also a crop of new faces that barely get any definition or character development, beyond their mutant powers as seen in battle, as if the filmmakers didn’t bother because we’d soon be resetting the clock back before their time anyway.

It’s an odd film to walk away from and feel both entertained and manipulated at the same time. It makes it all feel more like a video game, with players that bounce back for the next level. And now we know that time travel exists in this world, even to the extent that it’s used semi-routinely as a fighting technique in the future, why not just find the younger mutant with the requisite power as soon as possible and take all the risk out of every decision?

Probably because it takes the edge off the resultant story, as it did here. I guess I’d prefer not having X-Men stories, or many other stories for that matter, told in the style of “Groundhog Day” or the more recent “About Time.” Time travel and/or the re-living of moments in time works as a film’s central concept better than as a ‘deus ex machina’ plot twist that conveniently solves another problem in a different story. I didn’t like it when Superman made the Earth spin backwards and I didn’t really appreciate it here either.

 

Blended
Directed by Frank Coraci

There’s something fundamentally problematic about a comedy when the film ends and you can distinctly remember the one moment during the film that you laughed out loud, largely because it stands in contrast to the bulk of the time spent not laughing at all. This is the latest Adam Sandler film in which we’re given scenes that seem like set pieces, with a very deliberate setup and cheap punchline, but with no sense of flow between them.

Sandler plays Jim, a sports store manager and widowed father of three who hasn’t dated or engaged in romance since he lost his wife. He meets Lauren (Drew Barrymore in their third film collaboration), a divorced mother of two boys, on an awful blind date. Thus we have the necessary “meet cute” moment of romantic comedy, even lowest common denominator romantic comedy.

Naturally, as luck would have it and unbeknownst to each other, they find themselves filling in for mutual acquaintances on a trip to Africa that very conveniently happened to be for two adults and five children. Not that Africa plays much of a part here – it’s mostly just another setup for awkward tribal dancing, ostrich riding, and a charging rhino. The only real significance of Africa as a destination is that it needed to be somewhere sufficiently appealing that two struggling single parents would fall over themselves in their mad rush to do something cool for their respective children.

The end result is lackluster at best and feels forced throughout, especially with regard to characters and running jokes that overstay their welcome, before returning to overstay their welcome again. The one moment when I laughed came during a scene in which Jim and Lauren find themselves in a couples massage class and there’s a moment that feels quite natural between them, possibly even unscripted, which runs counter to the rigidly structured jokes in almost every other scene in the movie.

I’ve enjoyed both these leads in some other projects, but this one did nothing for me. That said, the preview audience generally seemed to have a good time with it and I suspect that folks who’ve enjoyed most of Sandler’s similar comedies (perhaps using “Grown Ups” and “Grown Ups 2” as a gauge) will enjoy this one as well. But if you didn’t, this is probably one to skip.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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