The week in film: ‘X-Men,’ ‘Love Punch,’ ‘Words and Pictures’

May 22, 2014

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If you’re keeping score at home, of the three Marvel comic-book movies so far this summer (a term I use advisedly for a season that technically doesn’t start for another month), “X-Men: Days of Future Past” outranks “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and is about on a par with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Except that the problem with “Captain America” was the opposite of the problems of this new “X-Men.” Where “Captain America” offered 90 minutes of running in place before reaching its exciting final half-hour, “X-Men” jets along nicely for its first hour and a half, then lumbers to a finish during the last 30 minutes. Unlike “X-Men: First Class,” there is little humor and fewer surprises in this time-travel tale about saving the future.

That’s where this story begins: a dystopic future, in which Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and others are hiding out from an attack by robot sentinels that are about to destroy all mutants (and humans). Their only hope is to send Wolverine back to the early 1970s to stop the scientist (Peter Dinklage) who invents them for the Nixon administration. Once he’s back there, he must convince then-enemies Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to team up and change the future.

“The Avengers” (and even Bryan singer’s first two X-Men movies) found ways to wring humor and pathos out of the various life/death verbal and physical confrontations of which the movies were comprised. This film – despite strong acting and state-of-the-art special effects – rarely does. It is never less than competent but also rarely more.

In other words, it’s an OK comic-book movie which, like so many of these efforts, has a reach that far exceeds its grasp. It’s not bad but it could have been lots better.

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Not bad: That’s not an inaccurate summary of two other films opening in more limited release on Friday (5/23/14).

“The Love Punch” is a silly trifle that works much better than it deserves to, thanks to a cast led by Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, with the reliable Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie in support. Brosnan and Thompson are divorced but still friendly. They’re forced to reteam when a vulture capitalist buys Brosnan’s company, then disembowels it financially to make a profit, costing the couple (as well as his employees) their pensions.

So the couple follows the chief villain to his wedding on the French Riviera, where they come up with a plan to steal all the money back. For that, they need the assistance of their best friends (Spall and Imrie), who have been encouraging the divorcees to reunite.

As noted, it’s all fairly lightweight, but Brosnan and Thompson bring such a sense of fun to the slapstick that you ignore how insubstantial it all is.

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“Words and Pictures” is weightier, but not much. It casts Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as two damaged people who wind up as colleagues at a Connecticut prep school.

He’s the English teacher, once a well-regarded poet and now a guy with a drinking problem who is barely hanging on to his job. She’s a well-known painter whose rheumatoid arthritis has crippled her ability to create art.

Naturally there are sparks, even as they develop a rivalry between their honors classes in art and English. They set up a debate for the students: which is more important – words or art?

The charmingly self-destructive Owen and the spiky Binoche make an interesting match, even if Gerald Dipego’s script seems formulaic in its use of personal problems to propel an episodic plot. Director Fred Schepisi is an old pro who knows how to sand off the rough edges to make this one smooth to the touch.

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