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poster_volunteersWhen I ever say that a movie has no plot, I usually mean in the sense that it follows no identifiable structure. I mean, every movie has a plot obviously, even the worse ones have some mode of plot. Example: douchebag A attempts to sleep with librarian girl B but has to drive to C before she flies to Italy for college. That’s a plot as simple as it is, but the sequences, scenes, themes and beats which tell that story are what really make up a movie’s plot.

Here is another example: A spoiled Yale grad is forced to join the Peace Corps to avoid a deadly gambling debt and ends up in Thailand where he attempts to sleep with the only two attractive women of the region. That’s pretty much the plot of this 1995’s screwball comedy of Tom Hanks’ career, Volunteers.

Hanks (Inferno) stars as the spoiled Ivy leaguer Lawrence who trades identities with his Peace Corps volunteer college roommate to avoid his gambling debt. On his way to Thailand, he meets fellow volunteer Beth, played by Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks’ real life wife), and civil engineer Tom Tuttle, played by John Candy (Uncle Buck). Once in Thailand, the team is stationed in a small village where they are tasked to build a bridge over the region’s main river, even though it’s never clearly stated why the village needed it. Of course, once he’s there, he’s a total jackass and the villagers for some reason love him. He learns this bridge is a point of interest for both the region’s communist regime and its gangland warlord to expand their efforts and power and is offered the chance to sleep with the warlord’s mistress if he can make sure the bridge gets built. And of course his efforts to sleep with Beth turns into a genuine romance.

So basically, a bridge is built and a bridge is blown up. And sex was the only real motivation provided for our main character to do both.

This mess of a story had no direction once it hit Thailand. The writing was so weak and underdeveloped it was like watching a squirrel take a sedative. You know it should have been entertaining but simply wasn’t. I can’t say enough bad things about how piss poor this screenplay was. It would have been so much better if building the bridge was the main goal the entire time and the warlord and communists DIDN’T want it to be built. Then Lawrence would be trying to sabotage the project to sleep with aforementioned warlord mistress and have much more room for a substantial character arc when he falls for Beth. Instead, there was hardly any decent conflict and no story threads were followed through to the point of satisfaction.

The character of Lawrence was also weak. Sex and avoiding responsibility were his only motivations. He was a little witty but mostly he came off pompous. He just wasn’t likable for me, and for a role being played by Tom Hanks, it’s hard to accept.

Also, the movie simply wasn’t funny. At no time did I ever laugh out loud. Actually…I take that back. The only points which made me giggle was when Gedde Watanabe (Gung Ho!), playing the only English speaker in the villager At Toon, kept calling Lawrence by the nickname Asshole. Even after At Toon started to care about the protagonist, he still continued to call him Asshole. For some reason, that bit of funny never got old. But that was all that was funny about the film, period.

The last thing I’ll say is, this is maybe the worst role and performance I’ve seen from John Candy, and that makes me sad to see. It’s a terrible thing to have this as the last role I’ve seen of the late Second City alumn comedian. I will probably have to go rent Uncle Buck to or The Great Outdoors to get this vomit of an over-acted excuse for funny–or even acting–out of my head. There was nothing believable about Tom Tuttle except being a bit of an egoist and an inability to stop talking. Yet another character we aren’t allowed to like.

Overall, this movie was painful once it got to Thailand. It is maybe one of the worst Tom Hanks movies I’ve ever seen and now it is no wonder I’ve managed to have never seen it before.

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poster_hellcatsnavyDo you remember that president who started the era of trickle down economics and is the hero of the Republican party? Well, for you younger readers who may not know, this same U.S. President was once a Hollywood actor, and a democrat at that time. His wife, who later became the first lady during his terms in office, was also a Hollywood actor. However, the two only did one movie together, and since the theme for this month of Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner is the U.S. Presidency–and I needed a classic film to review for our month’s criteria of challenges–I decided to make 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy my classic of choice starring none other than Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

Hellcats of the Navy, named after the U.S. Naval submarine division specifically used to clear Japanese underwater minefields during WWII, is about sub captain Abbot, played by Reagan (former U.S. President 1981-1989), who finds himself under close scrutiny when his command decisions cost the life of a frogman whom he learned had an affair with his wife Helen, played by Nancy Reagan (former first lady–SAY NO TO DRUGS!). Abbot’s executive officer, played by Arthur Franz, is at the forefront of ensuring an investigation continues of Abbot’s actions, while the two officers and the seamen under their command attempt to carry out missions against impossible odds.

I always have to mention this when I’m writing a classic review. I have no choice but to hold these older pre-1970 films to the standard of filmmaking of which I was raised. Some may say, “You’re being unfair. This film was ahead of its time.” Well, how could I possibly know that if I was born in 1974? I judge films by my own personal criteria, from the era I was exposed to film.

That being said. There was nothing original about this film which would allow me to say it stands out, except that fact that it’s the only movie starring both of these two figures of modern American history. By this, I mean the writing. The script has pretty much every done-before storyline from a war standpoint and a romance standpoint. How many times, even in pre-1970 films have we seen two soliders in love with the same woman? Countless. How many times have we seen stories where two officers are at odds and their troubles cost lives of their men? Countless. This is the main problem I have with this film.

What’s more, not only has this lack of originality forced me to dislike this film, but it has brought down my level of enjoyment for other pictures I have enjoyed. Crimson Tide (1995) is all I could think of when I was watching this film, and how similar it was to the story of the war sequences from this classic. This feature actually made me realize how rehashed Crimson Tide was instead of how original I once thought of it. That’s pretty bad for one film to be so bad it brings down my opinion of more than one movie.

The acting, like most of the films in this era, was horrible. This community-theatre style of acting was so stiff and hard to believe, it’s hard to believe anything else from it, like military technicals and plot points.

The only thing I can say that’s good about the film was it’s special effects of the underwater scenes outside the submarine. They actually weren’t too bad. Of course, it’s 1957 and special effects were all models and slow motion photography, and it’s obviously that. However, I would have to say the effects are no better than what Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) had to offer during the mining cart chase sequence; almost thirty years later and the special effects hadn’t changed. So, based on that, I’d have to say this film impressed me.

Also, the action sequences were pretty well done. I mean, between this submarine setting and those of Crimson Tide and U-571 (2000), it’s evident there are only so many ways for a director to film action sequences in a submarine. Nathan Juran was at the helm of this production, the Academy Award winning Art Director of How Green Was My Valley (1941)–which totally sounds like a porn title. Juran, an Australian talent, was also a WWII veteran with the OSS which put his film production career on hold for those years. However, his most famous credit could arguably be 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Regardless of his resume and military background, I felt the submarine action sequences were exciting enough to be impressive where a handful of other war classics from the 50’s have not.

Overall, I didn’t care for this film at all. It wasn’t original. It wasn’t well acted. The production design pretty much looked like any other submarine movie, which I imagine makes it extremely hard for a film to stand out. This was the first time I watched an entire movie with Ronald Reagan in it, and for some reason, it didn’t give me that much of a thrill.

 

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When I was looking for a classic movie to review this month, I saw Turner Movie Classics was showing 1961’s The Children’s Hour based on the 1934 stageplay from Lillian Hellman. It starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine both of whom I enjoy. So I DVR’d the movie and watched it a couple weeks later.

Quickly, I was confused. As I started to watch the movie, it was indeed The Children’s Hour. I’ve been involved in a production of the Hellman play years ago, and I was familiar with the material. But there was no Hepburn and MacLaine. Wtf?

Turns out, what I had recorded was a film from 1936 called These Three, which was inspired by Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. However, What was more confusing was both productions cast actor Miriam Hopkins in two respective roles AND both productions had the same director, William Wyler, three-time Academy Award winner for directing Ben-Hur (1960), The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) and Mrs. Miniver (1942).

These Three is about Karen, played by Merle Oberon, her fiancé Dr. Joseph Cardin, played by Joel McCrea, and Martha (Hopkins). As Karen and Martha fix up a dilapidated boarding home to run as an exclusive private school, the three find themselves in the throws of a scandalous lie created by the brattiest student there, a spoiled little bitch name Mary. From Mary’s web of lies, Karen and Martha lose their student body and reputations having been called out as lesbians. Karen suspects Martha of having an affair with Dr. Joe and everything pretty much goes to shit. 

The movie took forever to get started. It follows Karen and Martha’s graduation from college and eventual effort to fix up the boarding home. There’s a reason playwright Lillian Hellman didn’t include all that in her original stage work. It wasn’t necessary, and it didn’t add to the movie at all.

It also took forever to get to the storyline’s actual lie from Mary to her posh grandmother. That sequence was extremely intense and very effectively shot by Wyler but I lost a birthday waiting for the movie to get there.

The performances were extremely stiff like most movies from the ’30s. The younger teen actors had two levels, soft and complete freak out. There wasn’t much in between. So to say the least, the cast all around wasn’t very dynamic. Oberon had a nice moment during her breakup scene with Dr. Joe.

The worst aspect of the movie was the actual LGBT strand of the story. In the play, after Dr. Joe is dumped, Martha reveals she is actually in love with Karen. Karen does not return her affections and I believe Martha kills herself. It’s been a while since that production I was with and had read the play. Anyways, ALL of that was omitted from this movie version.

In this movie, none of that was left in. Martha learns the truth of Mary’s lies and has Karen contacted to let her know and encourages her to rekindle things with Dr. Joe. …roll credits. Ummm? Really?

Now I don’t think this story necessarily needs the last lesbian theme of the final act. The story is about a lie and the devastating effects a lie can have on people. But the ending this movie comes with is simply anticlimactic and lame. I HATE movies when the last thing you think when the credits roll is that’s it?

It was simply terrible. It was a terrible movie and a terrible attempt to honor Hellman’s original work. No wonder this one was strongly eclipsed by the 1961 production of The Children’s Hour.

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This movie is exactly the reason why I don’t watch very many classic films. At least none prior to 1970. It never matters how good the screenplay maybe, the production value is always the equivalent of a sub-par community theater production.

After a noble English family comes together to figure out how to convince one their younger members John, played by Ralph Forbes, to not marry a popular theatrical actress, Miss Elise Hillary, played by Ruth Chatterton. At the advice of her father, the family decides to invite her to stay at the family manor while she finishes up her performing career in preparation of the marriage, hoping she would find their lives boring and not marry John. However, when her finance’s cousin Edward arrives, played by Basil Rathbone, scandal is abound as Edward and Miss Hillary fall for each other, even though Edward is already having an affair with the wife of a member of Parliament.

Falling into the category of “Sucks because it was made when movies sucked,” The Lady of Scandal was riddled with scenes which didn’t carry the story forward half the time. The performances were equal to that of a Betty Boop black and white animated cartoon; melodramatic, unreasonable and just plain contrived. Forbes was one of the worst. Rathbone wasn’t much better.

While this movie felt like watching a bad community theatre production, the movie itself was in fact based on a play by Frederick Lonsdale. A good play? Don’t ask me. Everything was so stiff and awkward and BRITISH, it was difficult to get into the situation as a viewer at all. The lighting and photography were dated as fuck. You can always tell a crappy 1930’s movie when certain shots start getting tunnel vision. That’s when you see the edges of that black circle around the shot, possibly where the film didn’t quite grab the light coming through the camera’s gate. The tunnel comes and goes and it’s SO distracting.

The sound quality, like most movies of this age, was basically the quality of a dusty LP you found in grandpa’s closet and trying to get his old record player to work. Poor sound makes the movie so difficult to hear dialogue. However, the dialogue wasn’t believable anyways, so who cares.

The character of Elise Hillary was played as such a bitch by Chatterton. She hardly smiled through the entire picture and had this “No, I refuse to have fun” vibe about her which really made her a pain in the ass to watch. You really just didn’t like her, and there was no reason to like her. Even at the end of the film when Lady Hillary convinces Edward to call the Parliamentary wife to tell her he is in love with another instead of sending a letter. The film attempted to make Lady Hillary seem noble by calling Edward’s bluff and convincing him the right thing to do, seeing how the Parliamentary wife is recently widowed, would be to go back to Paris and marry the woman with whom he had a longtime affair instead of Lady Hillary herself.

From a moviemaking standpoint, things could not be worse. There were so many continuity errors from scene to scene, it added to the heap of distractions this production had for me. Continuity errors like characters smoking in one shot, and not smoking in another. Or the color of their drink changes between edits. Just terrible.

The timeline was also confusing. After the family first meets Lady Hillary and invites her to stay, there is a time jump of three weeks, noted to us in online text. However, by the end of the film, the dialogue mentions months had gone by. How? I NEVER got that. There were no change of hairstyles or anything to indicate a substantial amount of time. I would like to have seen the relationship between Lady Hillary and Lord Crayle, played by Herbert Bunston, during the first three weeks of her stay. After the on screen graphic told us about that time jump, Crayle was suddenly not as hoity-toity and uptight. He had been affected by Lady Hillary’s presence, but we never got to see why? Or how? He simply came to love her like a daughter of his own. Ummm…okay.

The only thing I found impressive about the movie was the production design. They really did know how to build large scale sets for a sound stage back then instead of using all special effects like today. It was impressive.

Overall, this obscure little film should probably stay obscure. I only saw it, knowing I have a Classic Review to do for Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner every month, and I was flipping through what was upcoming on Turner Classic Movies. At least I recorded and saw this one for free and at least it was only an hour and a half long. I’m starting to dread what I may end up recording for next month’s classic.

 

 

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poster_paulblart2I’m not sure what is with Kevin James doing these Rated PG movies. He’s not the most vulgar guy in the world or even an Adam Sandler level of juvenile humor usually, but his brand of comedy has never really been PG even since his days as a stand-up comic. However, the Paul Blart movies and things like Zookeeper (2011) seem to be nothing less than holding him back.

This latest Paul Blart installment is a perfect example.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 follows the title character, again played by James (Grown Ups), six years after the first Mall Cop story ended. After his wife had left six days from their wedding date and following the death of his mother, Blart and his daughter take vacation in Las Vegas after the mall cop is invited to a conference of security officers the same day Maya, the daughter played by Raini Rodriguez (TV’s Austin & Ally), secretly learns of her acceptance into UCLA. In Vegas, Blart bumbles his way through self awareness until uncovering a criminal plot to heist the Wynn Hotel and Resort of numerous high profile works of art, which Maya witnesses. Now Blart must save his kidnapped daughter from the clutches of mastermind Vincent, played by Neal McDonough (Red 2).

This film’s biggest fault, other than being disgustingly predictable and done before, is Kevin James not taking Paul Blart up another level, and I’m talking Jim Carrey level. Most of the situational comedy could have been laugh out loud funny if Blart could break out of the small mode of realism he was boxed into.

For example, the craps scene; Blart had never played but saw people around the craps table and heard the shooter was hot. He asked the dealer what to do and ended up dropping over $100 on the next throw under the dealer’s recommendation. Of course, because Blart is such a loser, he loses the throw and is out of gambling funds. However, after it happens, he simply accepts his fate and moves on like he’s cool about it. That was a moment when we really could have seen James milk the comedy of that situation for everything it was, but…nothing. There were quite a lot of scenes like that.

However, there were a few moments which were improvised which truly showed how funny James is. An example would be in Act 3 when Vincent and Blart are shouting at each other in the hallway, just before the big gang rumble, arguing over who is the more dangerous and “crazy.”

Another was Blart’s inability to fake his way through the shipping worker’s suspicions simply because the shipping worker was eating an overripe banana which had turned black. That simple exchange probably made me laugh out the loudest. Unfortunately, those moments are about as rare as an honest politician.

The writing was weak. Nothing in this film was original. The script played everything safe and by the guidelines of any UCLA Film School textbook. The production relies solely on James’ comedic ability and without his character being outlandish enough, it wasn’t enough to carry the movie.

Rodriguez’s performance was everything Disney Channel preteen sitcoms aspire to be. McDonough is getting type cast very quickly. But that crazy contest scene was hilarious. Good for him.

Gary Valentine (TV’s The King of Queens) only gets work when Kevin James does. However, I always enjoy it when he has a character role in these movies. I loved his willingness to have the makeup department shave his head to simulate a receding hairline.

From a directing standpoint, this was actually pretty decent for this kind of comedy. I’m not going to say the visual style for telling the story is groundbreaking, but at least it was a little visually different in spots than one would expect from this type of movie. I’ve liked some of director Andy Fickman’s earlier projects including She’s the Man (2006) which was a preteen modern telling the Shakespeare play.

Now for the really bad. This movie, much like the first one, was disappointing and just plain stupid. For about a good 45 minutes all we do is watch Paul be a complete fucking loser. You really just wanted to give the guy a hug. And to be honest, without there being more big laughs from Kevin James, but it was depressing for that aspect. If you have any comedy that makes you depressed for 45 minutes, then your movie is a complete failure.

Overall, that’s the best way to describe this film, a total fail. I did laugh a bit, and it was nice to see Paul Blart as a character grow by the end, but it was shit. Please God, Ala, Budda, Sonny and Sheeba, by the power of Greyskull, make sure producers don’t make a Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3.

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I grew up watching the TV series which followed this movie. In fact, I distinctly remember the final episode of M.A.S.H. Being the first piece of entertainment which actually made me weep. Don’t make fun, I was like 8 years old.

Also since seeing The Player (1992), I’ve been a longtime fan of director Robert Altman who turns out also directed the M.A.S.H. movie from 1970. So given my fanship of the TV series and the director why not see the original movie which I hadn’t before? So here we go.

The movie M.A.S.H. is a slice of life look at a U.S. Army field hospital during the Korean War after a handful of young and spry surgeons are stationed there. Hawkeye, played by Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1), and McIntyre, played by Elliott Gould (TV’s Friends), attempt to keep the pressures of being a combat surgeon at bay with a handful of antics for their own benefit and those whom are willing to let them to what they have to to keep from going crazy.

The first thing I liked about this movie was how it put director Altman and his style on the map. He uses a ton of observational compressed camera shots which gives the film an unusual flat look. But it does well for this movie to make the viewer feel as if they are stationed at the 4077 hospital as well and observing Hawkeye and Trapper John from afar. That style has made The Player and Short Cuts (also Altman works) two of my favorites from this director.

The performances were also of quality. In a style such as Altman’s, it takes a certain skill set as an actor to have your inner dialogue and non-dialogue acting noticed. The camera work tends to muttle performances, especially their faces. Sutherland, Gould, Tom Skerritt (Contact) and Sally Kellerman as Hot Lips O’Houlihan all did extremely well in their roles, particularly Sutherland who had that stupid swamp hat and glasses to hide his face that much more then Altman’s style. Kellerman actually earned an Academy Award nomination for her role as a supporting actress.

It’s probably because of the time period in which I was raised, or the influence of those who raised me, or just because I’ve never been in country in a military unit, or even worked in a hospital in the 1970’s, but the sexism which dripped from that unit was hard for me to see as funny. In fact, even though this movie labeled itself as a comedy, I hardly laughed at all. I simply didn’t find it funny. I didn’t think the chauvinist comments were funny. I didn’t think the situations were funny. I didn’t really find Hawkeye or Trapper John’s antics funny (not like I did with the M.A.S.H. TV series). I just didn’t think it was a comedy.

At the same time, it’s difficult calling this a drama. The whole purpose of the movie was to show a couple soldiers trying to keep things light-hearted to people don’t go nuts with the stress of their place in the war. It’s easy not to respect that. And the movie kept things very light hearted as well. But I can’t even call this a dramedy. A dramedy includes dramatic situations which are found funny from time to time. That’s not this movie as well. It’s simply war-time situations where a couple guys where trying to be smartasses. Have you ever hung out with a smartass who wasn’t really funny, but he didn’t really bother you. You just kind of shake your head at him and know he isn’t really hurting anyone and means well? That’s what it is like watching this movie. It truly is a slice of life picture.

That being said, if you are someone who enjoys plot over characters, this movie is not for you. There is NO plot in the movie whatsoever. The goals of the characters are constantly changing until the surgeons eventually go home. If you don’t find the characters interesting and worth watching, then you will absolutely dislike this film.

Overall, I’m glad I finally got to see this inspiration for one of my favorite TV shows growing up. And I’m glad I got to see it as an adult for the first time. It’s not for everyone for sure. I won’t even say it’s for me that much, but I’m sure glad it made for a long career for Mr. Altman.

 

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poster_xmenapocalypseI’m not sure what you’ve read from Marvel comic books, but for me it wasn’t much. I mostly traded the bubble gum cards and read the occasional graphic novels of the big names; Batman, Superman, Wolverine, etc. But it is my understanding a lot of the same lines of comic books come with different versions as time went on. One set of X-Men comics had romance story lines with a couple characters, while others did not. Backstories were different depending on the different series, even though it was the same character. Quicksilver is one example in the story lines of the Marvel universe of movies which don’t match up depending on what series you are following. If its the X-Men, he’s an American hero. If it’s the Avengers, he’s  German kid, brother to the Scarlet Witch, who dies trying to stop Ultron.

This would be my only problem with the latest installment of the X-Men series.

This latest version, X-Men: Apocalypse, follows the group’s history in 1986 when the first mutant, reborn several times over, is discovered and risen once again in Eygpt. This first mutant learns what the world has become since he went into a slumber for centuries. Now that he is above ground again, he recruits a handful of mutants to be his four horseman prior to destroying the Earth to rubble so the strongest of mutants can rule and start over. This mutant’s name, Apocalypse of course, played by Oscar Issacs (Star Wars, Ep. 7: The Force Awakens).

So with Raven/Mystique’s, played by Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), search for Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), who went into hiding after the last X-Men movie, finds him reemerging and siding with Apocalypse, the remaining mutants at Charles Xavier’s, played by James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), side attempts to mount an assault to stop the mutant god.

I’m going to start with the direction from Bryan Singer, who has directed four of the X-Men movies since the first one in 2000. The imagery of this installment was great. It was exciting and easy to understand what was going on, especially during the action scenes, which is where most of these types of movies fail. However, the campiness of the action scenes involving Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), felt out of place. I didn’t mind his character as comic relief, but action is action and I feel a director should give action scenes a certain level of reverence unless it involves Jackie Chan. With Chan, the campier the better. Not here, however. Other than that, it was another stellar set of decisions from Singer.

McAvoy and Fassbender gave the two best performances of the movie. There was a ton of “mind” fighting for McAvoy to handle as Xavier, while Magneto has the biggest loss of his life and reason to be pissed off at the world, since the death of his parents, in this story. Fassbender was spot on showing us that inner motivation was controlling everything he was doing. However, Raven’s attempt to turn Magneto against Apocalypse in act three was weak.

Olivia Munn as new character for this series Psyloche was nice to look at. Kudos to the costume designer on that character. Also, costume/character design for Apocalypse was also well done, with a handful of great moments from Issacs’ performance. However, I would have liked to see Apocalypse represented larger than most mutants. There was a scene of mind fighting between Apocalypse and Xavier during which he grew to a more substantial size of dominance, but the movie leading up to that sequence showed him a little smaller than any graphic novel I read ever showed him. I would have found him more dangerous if he was more the size of Colossus, from Deadpool. Big. Big threat, big body. That’s not a hard formula to follow for a comic book movie.

I also enjoyed the development of Cyclops, played by Tye Sheridan (Mud), and Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner (TV’s Game of Thrones), as characters and her massive destructive powers which gave us a glimpse of her eventual evolving into the Phoenix.

Being the umpteenth time the X-Men franchise has given us a new movie, it’s easy for X-Men:Apocalypse to rely on its viewers having seen previous installments. I’ll be honest. I haven’t seen the saga’s First Class (2011) or the entirety of Days of Futures Past (2014) releases. But I didn’t find myself lost at all following the material involved in this latest of the series. I knew more than my wife did, but seemed very confused in spots, but for the most part this movie tends to stand on its own the best it can. I’ll at least say the effort was there to keep new viewers up to speed.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. The characters and their development were strong in the writing, which is a big part of its ability to sell the film despite its weaknesses. However, if you are a fan of the Avengers series, you may find yourself confused in a couple spots if you aren’t keeping up with the X-Men series. My suggestion is do your homework on the X-Men saga. Maybe visit Marvel’s web site and read up on some of these characters and you may get more out of the plot and the movie as a whole. Otherwise, it drips with badassness which is all I was hoping for in the first place.

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