Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I will keep up the theme of my random backlog movie of the month coinciding with the sequel just hitting theaters. In March I featured Man of Steel in time for Batman v Superman, in April it was Age of Ultron in time for Civil War and this month I am covering 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (trailer) just in time for X-Men Apocalypse.

The fact that FOX has kept the continuity going across all the X-Men films since the first one hit in 2000 is quite the feat. If my math is right, Apocalypse will be the ninth film in the X-Men universe. With so many films across so many years, just like actual comics, there are all kinds of moments where the cannon contradicts itself in later films or make convenient lines of dialogue to explain why some characters are in certain movies. This fan clip right here helps a lot in order to try and piece together all the various timelines on what is and is not relevant today.

Days of Future Past throws a lot more into the already overflowing X-Men canonical pot by introducing time travel. This film starts off in the not so distant future of 2023 where the mutant race is either extinct or imprisoned. A small remaining squad of X-Men is constantly on the run from the all-powerful Sentinels. Magneto (Ian McKellen) & Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) team up and send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) present day conscience back into his 1973 body to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from pulling off an assassination that was the impetus for the Sentinel program. The bulk of this movie takes place in 1973 with occasional jumps to the present. That means this takes place 11 years after the events of the previous film, X-Men: First Class, and like that film we are treated to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s excellent portrayals of the younger versions of Professor Xavier and Magneto, respectively.

Minus a brief cameo in First Class, Days of Future Past is the first movie of the franchise to have a major crossover of actors from the original trilogy of the first three X-Men films and the prequel trilogy that is wrapping up with Apocalypse. There are several new mutants making their debut here, and several past favorites returning in small supporting roles. The complete list of mutants featured is too long for me to run down here, so please check out this link with the cast list here to see if your favorite mutants made the cut, odds are they probably did. The film primarily follows around several key mutants in this film, so you do not really get to see a lot of these background players in featured roles. I am not the biggest fan of Halle Barry’s portrayal of Storm in the franchise, and while it was kind of nice to see her back in the series for the first time since 2006, I found myself surprised to see her limited to a handful of lines totaling 20 words of dialogue…yes, I counted.

Fans of Rogue (Anna Paquin) only get a small cameo from her in the theatrical version of the film I am covering here. It is worth noting that FOX re-released a director’s cut of Days of Future Past with the subtitle of The Rogue Cut. It features several extra minutes to the film that adds a supporting story for Rogue. I loved Rogue in the hit animated X-Men cartoon of the 90’s and just despised how the original films portrayed her in comparison so I made sure not to pick up that director’s cut release, but for diehard fans of the films wanting the complete experience just know that I am not covering The Rogue Cut here.

It goes without saying that it is quite easy to get lost in the X-Men cinematic cannon when it introduces time travel in Days of Future Past. Seriously, check out the aforementioned clip as a much needed primer before going into this. For example, I was a little caught off guard when 1973 Wolverine still has his natural bone claws until I remembered he does not get infused with Adamantium in the cannon until several years later as detailed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This fact, along with others may or may not be rewritten because of the time traveling entailed in this film so expect a few tidbits in mutant film history to change accordingly. As much as I recommend prepping up going into this, I think I had more fun reliving this since I saw it last in the theater. I did my best to ignore any or all time paradoxes that occurred in the other films and it resulted in a much better experience. So yeah, I take it back, ignore watching that clip before the film and instead watch it after and be amazed at what all pieced together with the other films.

First Class had a tremendous cast and a lot of powerful moments that hit in a way unlike any of the previous films. I will tip my hat to director Matthew Vaughn with First Class being my favorite of all nine mutant films so far. Unfortunately he was unavailable for the sequel, but FOX was able to bring back Bryan Singer to the director’s chair after being away from the series since directing the very first two films. Vaughn somehow is capable of capturing the perfect mix of action, comedy and powerful dramatic moments in his film. Singer is just a notch or two below, but he is still pretty damn good in his own right. The action scenes are tremendous, with the clear cut standouts being Magneto levitating some heavy duty buildings in a CG spectacle and a slow motion kitchen scene showing off the powers of Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Where he lacks in comparison to Singer is that the big climatic moments hit, but just not as strong as they do in First Class. I still very much enjoyed this film and it was a very quick two hour and ten minute watch because so much is happening with all the time traveling and the jam-packed cast involved.

FOX has included several extra features totaling just over an hour on the BluRay of the theatrical release. There are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes that are fun quick watches on what did not make it into the film, including a surprising moment with Wolverine and Storm. The following four extras are all right around 10 minutes each, and worth checking out. Double Take and X-Men Reunited compares the past and present versions of the mutants and what their respective actors bring to the table. Lots of fun anecdotes here of the original cast getting nostalgic as they were part of the filming process again and being flattered/shocked when some new cast members told them how old they were when they saw the first films. Classification M profiles all the new mutants introduced and gives a very entertaining look at how they pulled off Quicksilver’s big scene in the film. Finally, Sentinels: Secure Future explains how they built the designs of the past and present versions of one of the X-Men’s most popular villains.

Yes, I would have preferred for Vaughn to come back and give us his version of Days of Future Past, but Singer did an admirable job filling in, especially considering the ambitious plot. I am still wrapping my head around how this relates to the rest of the films as I am pretty sure I missed connecting a few dots from beginning to end. If you do not mind spotting some inconsistencies with the other films and just enjoy Days of Future Past for what it is, then you will be in for a fun summer popcorn comic book flick and afterwards be ready for the final installment of this trilogy that is Apocalypse.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sting: Into the Light

To honor the man they call Sting’s WWE Hall of Fame induction a couple months ago, today I am covering last year’s release put out by WWE Home Video, Sting: Into the Light (trailer). Sting has only been under contract with WWE for a year and a half, and Into the Light marks his second WWE Home Video release. In early 2015 WWE rushed out The Best of Sting, which is mostly a collection of matches and recycled interview clips from Sting early in his WCW career. Into the Light on BluRay has 20 new matches in this collection on top of a career-spanning feature length documentary.

As I mentioned in many past entries on this blog I am a fan of WWE’s documentaries as they are usually pretty thorough and do their best to highlight most key moments of a career. Sting’s clocks in at 75 minutes on the disc, and while it does hit most of his big moments and marches along at a brisk pace, it could have easily went to two hours and cover more of his big feuds throughout his career. It is worth noting the Into the Light documentary is available on the WWE Network for all subscribers, but for whatever reason the version available on the network is 20 minutes shorter than the version on the BluRay.

The documentary has an overall theme every couple of chapters when it jumps to modern-day Sting in a car on his first trip to WWE Headquarters in Connecticut and touring the building and meeting with Triple H and other top WWE officials. Aside from these mini-chapter breaks, the last half hour of the documentary focuses on his first several months in the WWE where he made his debut at Survivor Series 2014 all the way through to his big match against Triple H at Wrestlemania 31. This is obviously a big transition and the biggest moment of his career, but to dedicate nearly half the documentary to just his latest few months in the business and the other half to his previous 20 years in the business is simply absurd.

If you were curious to how WWE was going to address Sting competing in TNA Wrestling for nine years from 2005-2014, they did what I expected and have Sting give it a brief mention by saying he spent some time competing over there before moving right along. I do not blame them for not going in depth about his career there since TNA is still a competing promotion and WWE does not own any of the rights to their footage (yet). That is too bad because I would have loved to see Sting comment about some prime TNA memories like Kurt Angle beating up his son and the Stinger running amok as “Joker” Sting.

The documentary quickly moves through Sting’s childhood years before moving along to how he got into bodybuilding which was how he met up with Jim Hellwig/Warrior and how they formed a tag team to break into the wrestling business in the mid-80s. Seeing some of this vintage old-school footage of Sting & Warrior teaming in Memphis Wrestling and Mid-South/UWF in the mid-80s was a trip to take in just because of how green both Sting & Warrior were at the time. Make sure to check out the extras as there are a couple early matches of Warrior & Sting teaming up where they do nearly nothing for practically the entire match, and even the announcers call them out for how new they are to the business. While the matches are admittedly ugly, they are fun in a nostalgic way just to see how far they have come since. The documentary did a great job in this early-years portion of Sting’s career by including interviews relative to this timeframe with Warrior shortly before he passed away, Jerry Lawler, and Warrior’s replacement partner in Mid-South, Rick Steiner!

Sting was most famous for his NWA/WCW run from 1988-2001, and the documentary covers it as best as it could in about a half hour. A decent amount of time was spent how Sting modified his look into the bleach blond/spiked up hair “surfer” Sting look and how he quickly moved up the ranks of WCW before emerging as a headliner in a big match against Ric Flair at the first Clash of the Champions. I will give props to the filmmakers for including interviews here with Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Rick Steiner, DDP, Ron Simmons, Goldberg, Vader, Jim Ross and Big Show to give a good consensus on how Sting had “it” and how he was a natural fan-favorite throughout his WCW career.

There is a fun jump to current-day Sting going through boxes of his old merchandise in his barn to relive some old WCW stories you do not want to miss. He uses them as a nice transition to reinventing his character and becoming the black and white ”Crow” Sting during the Monday Night Wars era of WCW. The WCW portion of his career in the documentary wraps up by going in depth about the year-long build to fight Hulk Hogan at Starrcade ’97 and how backstage politics ruined the finish of the match. Sting kind of goes on to say how backstage in WCW in ’98 was a bad time in his life and lead to him becoming a born again Christian. That comes full circle at the end of the documentary where it concludes on how Sting remarried and interviews family and friends that are part of the church he attends to end the feature on a happy note.

I am relieved the documentary ends there so I did not have to re-watch Sting’s career-ending neck injury against Seth Rollins at the Night of Champions 2015 event that ended his wrestling days. I enjoyed how the documentary showed a few shots of Sting’s home life on his ranch and I got a better idea of how Sting is in a good place in his personal life now. It gave a legit look at the real Sting outside of wrestling and just hearing him reminisce while digging up old merchandise and while building a bonfire gave a authenticity to his candid thoughts on the business. Make sure to check out nearly 30 minutes of bonus feature stories/deleted scenes that did not make the final cut of the feature. There are a few fun tales to check out here like fun pranks with Lex Luger and Rick Steiner, Sting admitting how he did not have the best promo skills, protein shake tips with the Stinger and Sting playing the latest WWE videogame, WWE 2K15 with the game press award winning member, Greg Miller.

As far as the 20 extra matches on Into the Light goes, I feel they have a really good variety covering all the key eras of Sting. As I mentioned above there are three matches you must watch from his early tag team days in Memphis & Mid-South just to see how raw Sting was back then. Nearly all his WCW matches feature hot crowds that you can tell are definitely behind Sting no matter how good or bad the actual matches are. Sting’s 45-minute time limit draw with Flair on the first Clash of Champions features a fair amount of rest holds, but the two pros had the crowd in the palm of their hands every time Sting teased a comeback and especially in the final several minutes when the action heated up.

Other noteworthy surfer-Sting era matches included are when he teams with Luger against the Steiners in a tag bout where everyone was on Sting said in the documentary this was a match he was very proud of. There is the modern day equivalent of an I Quit match in 1991 against Cactus Jack that turned into a great hybrid of wrestling and brawling all over the arena. There is an intense “against all odds” match against Vader from Slamboree ’94 where the two slug it out and Sting has to overcome the brute that is Vader and interference from his manager, Harley Race. There is also a really good back-and-fourth match on here against then “Stunning” Steve Austin in his final months with the company in 1995.

There are a lot of good match ups from the Nitro years on here which fall into a pattern of a lot of good wrestling, but a lousy DQ finish to the match to make you pay for the ultimate payoff at the monthly PPV. Matches on here that follow that formula are a rare hero vs. hero encounter against Hulk Hogan in ’95, a surprisingly good bout against Goldberg in ’98 and a really good battle against Bret Hart in ’99. Only exception to that rule is when Sting won the WCW World Title from Diamond Dallas Page on an April ’99 episode of Nitro in an excellent PPV quality match with a clean finish. This was my first time reliving that match since I attended it live at the Fargodome 17 years ago, and it brought back an incredible rush witnessing a rare World Title change they usually save for PPVs.

The matches part of this collection close off with his WWE debut where he came out in the closing moments of the Survivor Series 2014 main event and facing Triple H at Wrestlemania 31. If you own the BluRay though you get a little over an hour of exclusive extras featuring four matches and two Sting promos from WWE last year. A couple of those matches on here follow the above-mentioned Nitro formula of a crummy ending with otherwise-really good wrestling against Brian Pillman, a pre-Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner, and teaming with Dusty Rhodes against the Four Horsemen. The only BluRay exclusive match with a shenanigans-free finish is against Booker at Spring Stampede 2000 (this was when Booker T was in a storyline where he was robbed of the “T” part of his name, thank you Russo!).

This is the Sting collection you want from WWE. While The Best of Sting has the edge in quantity and quality of matches featured, there is still a solid round-up of Sting’s best matches on Into the Light. More importantly for newer fans you definitely want to see the documentary for why Sting has meant so much to the business, and for long-term fans it is a nice quick Cliff’s Notes refresher on his career.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unrealeased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015