Archive for June, 2016

If we’re being completely honest, 1996’s “Independence Day” is not a good movie. It’s a ridiculous, far-fetched 50s-style B movie that was elevated thanks to the modern special effects of the time, an ad campaign featuring the White House blowing up, the charisma of Will Smith, and a rousing speech by Bill Pullman.  It was still a movie so stupid that aliens are defeated using a computer virus that can somehow be transferred to an alien computer using a laptop even though there are some programs that aren’t even compatible from Windows XP to Windows 10. It still features Randy Quaid in full Cousin Eddie mode suicide bombing himself into a flying saucer. It was a big, dumb, stupid movie, and even 20 years passing hasn’t made my nostalgia goggles see it as a good movie. But sure, it has its moments.

So now we have a sequel everyone stopped asking for in 2001, and the result is a decent set up crushed under the weight of ferocious mediocrity. Twenty years have passed since the aliens invaded and were repelled back. Earth has used alien technology to heighten its defenses so that humans now have military bases on the Moon and on one of Saturn’s moons.  The nations of Earth are at peace now that they have a common enemy to fight (I see the FIVE people it took to write this film have read “Watchmen”). The peace is underscored by the certainty that the aliens will eventually return, and the film begins with the aliens receiving a distress call sent out during the original invasion. If it took the aliens 20 years to return, I assume the distress call took 10 years to reach them, and the aliens actually need 10 years to travel. Maybe more for the travel and less for the call, I’m not sure.

An interesting plot thread that they don’t do much with takes place in an unnamed African country. Apparently, there was one saucer from the original invasion that landed and started drilling into the Earth. When the mother ship was destroyed in 96, it lead to a TEN YEAR GROUND WAR between aliens and the warlord-led African nation. With the rest of the Earth at peace, you kind of wonder why none of the other nations stepped in to help with that ground war. The film tries to answer this by saying the previous ruler wouldn’t let outsiders into the country, but I have a hard time believing the first world imperialist nations of the world would take orders from a two-bit warlord and not swoop in, kidnap or kill the aliens, and investigate that ship. Oh well. The ground war between a poor African nation and marooned aliens with laser rifles would have been a far more interesting film that this sequel is.

When the film begins, former President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman) is grizzle bearded and crazy, plagued by nightmares and assured the aliens will return. He turns out to be right, and as soon as he’s validated he shakes off the crazy a little too conveniently. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum, happy to be doing something other than an Apartments.com commercial) is an important scientist with the Earth Space Defense (think NASA if it were militarized) who is called to Africa now that the new warlord (Deobia Oparei) is friendlier to outsiders, and now that the spaceships lights have been turned on. They find that ship sending the distress call.  Other returning characters include David’s father (Judd Hirsh), who is annoying, unfunny, and useless to this film, especially when he hooks up with a bunch of orphaned kids who could have and should have been written out of this film. We also get Vivica A. Fox, who played Will Smith’s wife in the previous film. Fox’s role in this movie is to show up for two minutes, die, and then be forgotten for the rest of the film. I hope she uses her paycheck from this film on something nice.

Will Smith decided not to return for the sequel, so we’re told he died during a training flight. Instead, we get his son Dylan, played by Jessie Usher. Usher has no talent or charisma, and thus seems like the polar opposite of Will Smith from the first film. Dylan is well-respected because of who his father was, and he’s followed in those footsteps to become a pilot. Then there’s President Whitmore’s daughter Patricia, who is played by Maika Monroe, who you may remember as the star of the best film of 2015, “It Follows”. Seeing her on the big screen again made me want to see an “It Follows” sequel and reminded me of how much I love “It Follows”. That is probably the best thing about “Independence Day: Resurgence” that I can say. Her character is a former fighter pilot who is now a speechwriter for the current president, President Lanford (Sela Ward). Lanford is a supremely hawkish female President who shoots first, asks questions later, makes dumb decisions, and whose last words in the film are “No Peace”. I think it’s safe to say she’s a stand in for Hillary Clinton.

Of the new characters, the star of the show seems to be Jake Morrison, played by Liam Hemsworth. Jake is Patricia’s fiancé and he’s stationed on the moon base. Also, Jake and Dylan have some bad blood because Jake almost got Dylan killed during a training mission. None of these characters’ interpersonal stories will matter to the audience in the slightest, and for an alleged leading man Hemsworth has the star power and screen presence of a turnip.

I should right now say that all of this film’s humor and comic relief fails, except when it comes to Dr. Brackish Okun, played by Brent Spiner. What was an extended cameo in the 1996 film has become a main character of this film, probably because he’s a fun character, the only humor in this film that made me so much as smile, and because Spiner seems like the only cast member who truly enjoyed revisiting their character. Okun has been in a coma since 1996 and wakes up once the alien invasion is imminent. He has been cared for by Dr. Isaacs (John Storey), who the film is clearly trying to imply without explicitly stating is Okun’s boyfriend or husband. I appreciate the attempt to make a main character in a wannabe blockbuster summer film gay, but it’s obvious they pulled their punches so as to not upset the overseas filmgoers in China and Russia who may be turned off by that.

As the plot unfolds, we find out that the evil aliens go from planet to planet drilling into it to extract the planet’s molten core. So a foreign power that invades other places to drill and extract natural resources? Are these films attacks on American imperialism while pretending to be patriotic, or do the filmmakers not see how the aliens’ behavior mirrors that of imperialism in human history? We do get a bit of a retcon in that we’re now told the aliens act as a hivemind and are controlled by a series of giant queen aliens. I guess Brent Spiner let the writers know about the Borg from “Star Trek” and they decided to rip that off while they were already stealing ideas from “Watchmen”. So, the aim becomes killing the queen (which them kills all of that non-queen aliens in the basic vicinity, because sure) before they can drill to the core and extract it, which would kill everything on the planet.

But wait, there’s more. We’re introduced to a SECOND alien race, in the form of a white sphere housing artificial intelligence. Apparently the sphere tries to take survivors from the first aliens’ attacks and bands them together to form a resistance army, which has a better chance of winning because the sphere aliens have knowledge and technology capable of defeating the entire evil aliens’ race.  After President Not-Hillary shoots the sphere alien’s even bigger sphere ship earlier in the film, it’s nice that the sphere doesn’t hold a grudge.

The bulk of the film is about pilots flying and trying to blow up the mother ship, the evil aliens using weird gravity devices to pick up Asian and throw it at Europe (if they can do that, why not kill everyone on the planet FIRST, and THEN land and start drilling?), and later there’s a fight against a giant alien queen, because apparently the makers of 1998’s “Godzilla” didn’t get big monsters out of their system yet. There are also a many, many, many more supporting characters I have not even mentioned, making this bloated with characters you will not give two shits about.  Oh, and this film features a former President of the United States suicide-bombing himself…and it accomplishes nothing. Are you comparing the aliens to the United States as imperialist monsters in real life and the United States in the film to terrorists in real life, and dressing it up in a faux patriotism wherein America alone saves the world’s ass from destruction and suffers the least damage among first world nations?  This film’s message and packaging are so fucked up that I doubt the filmmakers intended the film to say anything other than “hand us your money.”

Some of this is dumb fun, and a lot of this is just plain dumb, or annoying, or groan inducing. The set up of this world could have gone somewhere, and yet five writers couldn’t craft a good movie out of that set up. Cutting the main case in half or two thirds might have helped, but there’s a franchise to attempt to make. When the film ends with the implication that the humans might travel to the evil alien homeworld to take the fight to them, I was reminded of an idea I had for an “Independence Day” sequel back in 1996. It would have been called “Columbus Day”, and like Columbus we would have gone to a distant land to kill and enslave the natives (in this case, evil aliens). I’m not sure what it means that my idea at the age of 12 or 13 is the idea that men in their 50s and 60s want to turn into part 3 of this series….if it even gets made (box office results paint that as doubtful).

For all the faults of the original “Independence Day”, it was more fun and had more dumb charm than this sequel does. The plan the humans come up with is better and less absurd than a 1996 computer virus being able to be uploaded to an alien vessel, but otherwise this is a lackluster story with a bloated cast of characters you don’t care about, special effects that are generic and boring, and humor that largely doesn’t work. The film isn’t aggressively bad, but it’s mediocre as all hell. C.

 

 

“The Shallows” is a pretty simple film. A woman is trapped so-close-but-yet-so-far out to sea (maybe 200 yards from the beach) as a shark seems hell-bent on eating her. Why? Something about a dead whale carcass and the woman infringing on its hunting ground. If that’s the case, I’m not sure why we never see the shark feeding from the whale, or why the shark prefer human meat to the whale. It seems the shark is after her, and any other human character it gets in contact with, out of spite…or something. In any event, we have a film that is part “Open Water” (people trapped in the middle of the water with no help coming) and part “Gravity” (one woman alone against the odds) with a shark. Given that nearly every shark movie since “Jaws” has been complete garbage, the fact that “The Shallows” is an entertaining movie without falling back on the easiness of self-parody (“Sharknado”) is a triumph of sorts all by itself. We end up with a decent little movie with some tense sequences and really beautiful underwater photography at points. This isn’t a very involved or smart movie, but it does a simple job effectively.

The woman at the center of the film is Nancy, played by Blake Lively. Lively is neither a good nor a bad actress, having had no real roles to distinguish herself in. In this film, Lively does nothing to distinguish herself as anything other than a neutrally talented actress who can do the simple tasks the film asks of her. She at least doesn’t project the boredom of the actors in “X-Men: Apocalypse”, but she also doesn’t bring anything extra to the character of Nancy to make us care about other than a general feeling that after 80 minutes if watching a perfectly nice person try to not get eaten, it’d be a shame if she were then actually eaten. If she was suited to this role in any particular way, it was because of how she looks in a bikini. The camera lingers on her body as she disrobes, puts on a wetsuit, and then disrobes from a wet suit in such a manner and so repeatedly that I found myself wondering if the director was trying to film one of those slo-mo montages from “Baywatch” that doubled as softcore erotica for syndicated TV audiences too cheap to by Playboy’s swimsuit VHS tapes. In fact, the entire first act of “The Shallows” is partially a beautifully shot examination of Blake Lively’s body and partially a surfing documentary ala “Endless Summer”. It looks nice, but is perhaps a bit too slow and a tad boring if you care not for surfing. The film tries to put in some backstory on Nancy about how her mother died after a long illness (and how that lead her to the secret Mexican beach the film takes place at), that she has a sister she likes and a father she has a cold relationship with. Oh, and Nancy has taken a break from medical school and may not go back, a detail added solely so that, later, Nancy can attend to some of her wounds and not immediately bleed to death from a shark bite as most of us without medical training would do under these circumstances. The backstory is not something we as an audience cares about, and that may be partly the writer’s fault and partly Lively’s fault for not really bringing much to this character except the basic likeability Lively herself has (which is a decent amount, admittedly).

Them the shark attack kicks in. Nancy is bit on the leg and takes purchase on a rock in the ocean that will be completely submerged at high tide, putting a time limit on her safety. The film demonstrates that the shark can jump out of the water, though, so I’m not sure why the shark doesn’t simply jump upon the rock and eat her (the rock is low enough for the shark to do this based on the skills the film shows us the shark has). Nancy is not on this rock alone, though. An injured seagull that cannot fly after being swiped by the shark is also there, and the seagull becomes the non-speaking supporting character that deserves third billing after Lively and the CGI shark. Nancy must then fight off exposure to the sun, her infected shark bite, and hunger and thirst (though the film doesn’t harp on those too much) as she tries to come up with a  plan to escape the shark, get back to land, and save herself.

It needs to be mentioned that the cinematography of this film, especially the underwater sequences, are beautiful. I don’t know what camera was used for the underwater shots, but they came out clear, crisp, and gorgeous to look at. A sequence involving jellyfish especially stands out. Some of the water during the surfing sequences is CGI, and the shark is likely ALL CGI, but I didn’t mind that as much because the weird, hypercrisp quality of the digital camera used to the film this thing blended well with the CGI elements incorporated into it. Cinematographer Flavio Labiano deserves special praise for the film (he also did the very good time travel film “Timecrimes”.)

The director is Jaume Collet-Serra, who has directed the “House of Wax” remake (a film very disposable and forgettable except as the film in which Paris Hilton is killed on screen) and the surprisingly good studio horror film “Orphan”. His last three films were all Liam Neeson action films. “The Shallows” fits more into the thriller category than horror, but it’s sort of a return to form, even if there’s very little in common between this film and “Wax” and “Orphan”.  Collet-Serra, aside from the creepy focusing on close-ups of Lively’s bikini body (which may be a comment on how human’s view female flesh as sexual contrasting with the shark’s view of flesh as food, but that seems too deep for this film) does a serviceable but unspectacular job with this film, as I view the film’s successes as those of editing and cinematography and not particularly directorial choices.

Look, if you want to see a woman fight off a shark for just shy of 90 minutes, enjoy the sight of Blake Lively in a bikini, and see some really beautiful underwater photography and shots of a beach, then this is a film you want to see.  If is no better or worse than that, and no more or less than that. I enjoyed it for what it was, maybe wished it was a bit more, but walked out more or less satisfied with the experience. The film does tack on a horribly useless epilogue that should have been cut, and that taints some of the experience walking out, but otherwise this film gives you the experience you’re walking into the theater to see, and not one iota more. B-

 

 

“Finding Dory” is about mental illness and people with special needs. Whether we’re dealing with our main character’s short term memory loss, a near-sighted whale, or mentally challenged seals and birds, the message comes across loud and clear that the film is about how difficult it is to both live with an illness or disability (the constant frustration and shame one may feel about not being able to do things “right”), and how difficult it is to love (or, if you’re a parent, to raise) someone with disabilities.  This film could be an invaluable tool to show special needs children that they can be useful and matter, as well to possibly help children feel empathy for those unlike themselves who struggle with challenges outside of their control.

 

The message and the aims of the film are so good and worthwhile that one can be tempted to praise the film a tad bit more than it deserves. While “Finding Dory” is a very cute and thoroughly entertaining film, it is neither funny enough nor poignant and touching enough to rise into the pantheon of truly great Disney or Pixar films. The animation is gorgeous and the story works well enough, but this is a solid base hit, not a home run.

 

While it’s been 13 years since “Finding Nemo”, the sequel picks up a mere one year after the events of that film. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are back to living their normal lives, except that Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) now lives with them. Dory’s mental problem is sometimes a source of annoyance for Marlin and others, but she’s well-meaning and friendly and everyone tries to be accommodating. One day, Dory starts to have flashes of memory, and she remembers she had parents. The film is then a quest for Dory to travel across the ocean to find them. The trip is filled with coincidences, screenplay-enforced luck, basic detective work, and hoping for the best.  The script, by director Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse, plays a bit loose with how Dory’s memory works, by having her remember and forget at times and with a regularity that the screenplay requires without any basic internal logic, and how characters find the clues needed to get from one story point to the next sometimes feel like screenplay cheats, but perhaps that’s just nitpicking.

 

The bulk of the story takes place at Marine Life Institute, which is part aquarium and part animal hospital. Once there, we meet a delightful supporting cast, including a camouflaging octopus who steals many scenes he’s in, Hank (Ed O’Neil), the aforementioned near-sighted whale, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) , a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and more. It’s an interesting setting to place the film in, and it allows for a number of cool set pieces involving how our mainly aquatic characters are able to travel from one part of the institute to another despite their obvious handicaps in traveling.

 

It should be said that Dory is far less annoying in this film than in “Finding Nemo”, and that may be because we feel more for her as a character and how terrible it must be to have a debilitating mental handicap that you can’t do anything about, no matter how hard you try or want to be free of it. The film does a good job of making you not just feel sympathy for her, but feel empathy, and realize that it would really be tough if you, as a viewer, had to suffer through something similar.

 

If the film falters a bit, it is to what extent it argues in favor of the mentally disabled being allowed certain levels of autonomy.  While Dory ultimately prevails when she’s left alone, it remains the fact that having been left to her own devices earlier in life (and at other times) results in her detriment a lot more than her benefit.  If she gets lucky once, great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she shouldn’t have supervision during most of the time. I was somewhat reminded of the film “I Am Sam”, which tried to get the audience to believe that a severely mentally challenged man should keep sole custody of his daughter.  Since, in that film, it was very obvious that an adult man with the IQ of a 4 year old should not raise a child by himself, it left the audience at odds with the film. “Finding Dory” doesn’t go that far, but it may unintentionally be arguing to let the mentally handicapped or otherwise special needs persons to have a great level of autonomy because everything will work out for them in the end if you trust in them, and that message is naive and dangerous for some of them, even if it has a well-meaning goal of trying to not portray the mentally disabled as drooling goons who can’t do anything for themselves, as many films do.

 

“Finding Dory” is not going to be a classic. I perhaps liked it more than last year’s “Inside Out”, which was a bit more ambitious than this sequel that follows the formula of the first film fairly closely, but this isn’t Pixar or Disney’s best work. It has a good message and may prompt useful discussions between parents and children (and parents of special needs children may get the biggest cry of all if they see themselves or their children in the film’s characters) , but it’s not original enough or funny enough to raise it to a higher echelon, and the screenplay feels a bit too contrived at times to get the characters to do and act and remember the way the plot requires them to. B

“Now You See Me 2” is an empty, soulless, unnecessary, cynical cash grab devoid of fun, humor, or effort. Watching the movie is like eating a rice cake: you know something has been consumed, but you feel empty, hollow, and unfulfilled. The actors are not having fun, but are miming the experience of having fun. The magic tricks in the film do not dazzle because we know most of them could never actually be done as tricks or in-camera, thus negating the whole point of using magic tricks as the original gimmicks of the film. The action is a bunch of herky-jerky nonsense, courtesy of no-talent hack director John M. Chu, whose resume includes Justin Bieber’s documentary, “Jem and the Holograms”, and three “Step Up” films.  This movie only exists because the first film, a semi-entertaining little lark, made a lot more money than expected.

 

So now we have a sequel no one asked for, telling a story no one gives a shit about. A large portion of the film takes place in Macau, China, to increase the chances that the film will be allowed to capture more of that sweet sweet Chinese box office revenue reserved for films the Chinese government deems a co-production. All sequels are made for money, but usually there’s at least a pretense of the film also having an artistic or entertainment reason for existing. Nope. NYSM2 is a product meant to extract money and that’s it. The only entertainment you’ll get out of it is seeing bored, talented actors try to fake giving a shit in order to cash an easy paycheck. Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson (playing two roles, neither of them funny), Jesse Eisenberg, Daniel Radcliffe, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine are all completely wasted as they sleepwalk their way through principal photography and give performances that meet the dictionary definition of “perfunctory”. The only actor who seems to be trying to have fun is Lizzy Caplan, who is new to this sequel, and injects as much of her invaluable personality into the lifeless dialogue she has as possible. She replaces Isla Fisher, who was pregnant at the time of filming and wasn’t able to be in this film, which I’m sure she’s grateful for. Fisher was in “The Brothers Grimsby” earlier this year, though, and while I enjoyed that film (I never got a chance to write a review of it, however) it bombed pretty hard.  Oh, and this film also has Dave Franco, whose performance can be described as Dave Franco-ish.

 

The plot involves our four main magicians/Robin Hoods (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, & Caplan), who are hiding from the law due to some benign crimes they committed in the first film, being kidnapped and forced by an evil rich tech genius (Radcliffe) to steal a computer chip that can steal data from every computer on Earth. So that’s our MacGuffin for this film. Ruffalo, the FBI agent who is actually the magicians’ leader and also had a famous magician father that died once, meanwhile has a B plot about coping with his dad’s death and the magician-debunker (Freeman) that he blames. The film takes us to China and then London as far-fetched, boring heist sequences take place, and impossible-and-thus-boring magic tricks are shown. And we get an insufferable performance by Harrelson as the tanned and fro’d twin brother of his magician character.

 

This film is not fun. It is not exciting. It is not funny. The film is boring, annoying, groan-inducing, and it’s kind of insulting that the filmmakers both think this is entertaining and expect people to be okay exchanging money for the experience of watching this film. There is no reason for this movie to exist, other than to make money, and there is no reason for you to see this movie, other than to waste money and time. When a last minute message about privacy rights is shoehorned into the movie at the end, it is so quickly discarded that you wonder why they tried to put a message in at all (the first film at least dealt with financial crime in a more than passing manner).

 

It didn’t have to be this way. “Ocean’s 11 with Magicians” is a decent if ridiculous concept that could work a lot better than the first film (which was fun enough), and it sure as hell could work better than this film does. In a summer that has already been full of mediocre and disappointing films, “Now You See Me 2” has been the worst. D.

I wanted to like “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” a lot more than I eventually did. It seemed like a good concept to take the Lonely Island, a comedic band known for making humorous songs for SNL’s Digital Shorts, and have them make a popstar mockumentary giving the “This is Spinal Tap” treatment to the genre of modern music that gives us talentless hacks like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and others that the music industry insists to the public are talented artists regardless of what my ears and penchant for lyrics tell me otherwise.  With a title parodying Bieber’s own feature length commercial “Never Say Never Again”, I was hoping this would be a silly but still biting satire of a music business which has been forced by technology destroying the album format and reducing modern music to a weekly sequence of singles watered down for mass consumption in the hopes of quashing the insane easiness of pirating music.  Say what you will about how movies and TV may have gone downhill, no industry has been hurt more in the last decade or two than music in terms of quality. Honestly, to yourself if not to anyone else, when is the last time you heard a musician make a song that you legitimately, to yourself, though was good?  Was great? Maybe I’m just getting old, but I barely listen to anything new anymore because music has become absolute swill. “Popstar” has the potential to be a brutal, biting, and savage satire of what music has become.

 

Instead, “Popstar” is a sporadically funny but ultimately too silly and friendly with the music industry (look at all the useless cameos that add no comedy and are only in the film to boost the cameo count itself) to really take the industry to task. The film is about Conner4Real (Andy Samburg), a man too dumb to be mean spirited with how much of an egotistical asshole he is. Conner could have easily become a vehicle to attack everything wrong with the modern music industries stars, who are celebrities and social media stars more than musicians, but instead he is a self-contained vessel that says nothing really about the music industry in particular. Sure, scenes where his yes-men congratulate him on a basketball shot he didn’t actually make and ones where he takes a shit in the Anne Frank house are obvious shots at Bieber, and a gag about Conner’s album being forcibly uploaded onto peoples’ home appliances mimics the incident where U2’s new album was forcibly uploaded to every iPhone regardless of the owner’s wishes, but the jokes of this film contain less of these gags and more generic and pedestrian gags about an egotistical idiot finally losing popularity. The film, in the end, is mainly about not being a dick to your friends, which is the laziest and unnecessary message to make in a film that should have been a no-holds-barred attack on the vapid state of American music.

 

I’m not going to say the movie doesn’t have funny moments. The Lonely Island songs in the film including bragging about being humble, and expressing support of equal rights while still vociferously assuring people you yourself are not gay, are quite funny. Other songs, about how the Spanish pronounce words and how the Mona Lisa isn’t a good painting, fall flatter. The movie is so harmless and good natured that it’s impossible to be too mad at it, even when it’s making ridiculously dated jokes about Tony! Toni! Tone! and can’t decide is Conner’s old group Style Boyz is supposed to parody Color Me Badd, New Kids on the Block, the Beastie Boys, or the Funky Bunch.

 

There really isn’t much to say about this film. It throws a lot of jokes at the wall, and more of them fail than work, but the movie is so harmless that it’s more of a shoulder shrug than a crushing disappointment. Maybe if the songs were funnier (Michael Bolton is wasted on a song that is just a collection of random things, a song about the things in a guy’s jeep is not funny in the slightest) or the jokes more outrageous, it could have worked despite being a neutered take on what could have been a really savage mockumentary. Maybe if the cameos from real musicians had been added for, you know, humor, instead of just to be bland talking heads to talk about the fictitious musicians at the center of the film, this could have been something. Talented comedians like Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Bill Hader, and even Justin Timberlake are completely wasted in this film.

 

“Popstar” isn’t a bad movie, so much as it is a wasted opportunity and a weak parody. I smiled and chuckled enough in the film to not be too mad at it, but the movie’s lack of a reason for existing makes it instantly forgettable and unnecessary. C

 

PS:  The film’s directors, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, are the two other members of the Lonely Island aside from Samberg. Jorma is the best actor of the three and also worked on the much funnier and just as dumb film “MacGruber”. I kind of wish he was the frontman for this band than Samberg.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” has enough good in it to make the bad parts outnumbering those good parts that much more disappointing. A few good scenes can’t save the film from being a colossal disappointment, which at least is still better than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, which is still the worse in the series. I’d also say “Apocalypse” is better than Ratner’s “The Last Stand”, but that may be because I’ve blocked out most of that film.

There’s enough wrong with this film that a review threatens to become a list. Rather than fight that urge, let’s just do it like that,

 

  • Why has no attempt been made to age these characters? “First Class” took place in 1962. “Days of Future Past” took place in 1973. Now this film takes place in 1983 and despite the 20 years between “First Class” and this, everyone looks the exact same. I can give Mystique (a bored and phoning-it-in Jennifer Lawrence) a pass because she can choose a younger human form, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who shows up in an unnecessary cameo, who can heal himself and doesn’t seem to age because of his mutant powers, but no one else has any excuse. This is distracting and lazy.

 

  • Why are Apocalypse’s (a wasted Oscar Isaac) powers never explained? He can turn people into sand, meld them into sand, create portals to travel through, suck information out of a TV (a really horrible screenplay device to get him knowledge), increase the powers of other mutants, seemingly temporarily take over the powers of other mutants (he forced Xavier [James McAvoy] to do things against his will), and a hodge-podge of other powers. I get that he has absorbed a bunch from jumping body to body, but it’d be nice to know what the limits of his powers are.

 

  • Magneto (Michael Fassbender, who does an admirable job with little material) was a victim of the Nazis. This has driven him to do evil things which make sense in the past (make everyone a mutant so that there’s no discrimination against mutants), but in this film his hatred over prejudice and senseless killing is…to say “fuck it” and go along with global genocide? Sorry, I just couldn’t buy it. His character at least is allowed the most emotional scenes in the film, and those scenes on their own work reasonably well.

 

  • There’s a pretty good scene where Apocalypse fires all of the world’s nuclear weapons into space, leaving no country on the planet with a nuclear arsenal.  This could have been cool if Apocalypse had the motive of the humans of the world being destructive and him trying to keep them from killing themselves for their own good, like in the original “The Day The Earth Stood Still”. Instead, Apocalypse seems driven only by narcissism and wanting to control the world. If that’s the case, why does he fire off all the nukes?  The nukes don’t seem to be a threat to him, and he wants to kill most of the world anyway.  This action makes no sense given what we are told about the character, though it is a great idea in isolation and plays well as a scene divorced from the movie around it.

 

  • It seems just a tad bit disrespectful to have Psylocke (Olivia Munn) standing in Auschwitz in a purple sexy ninja suit. Also, having Apocalypse standing at the gates of a concentration camp looking like Ivan Ooze from the Power Rangers movie doesn’t help either.

 

  • If Apocalypse wants the four strongest mutants to help him take over the world, why does he choose Archangel (Ben Hardy), whose only powers are flight and firing metal from his wings. That’s pretty weak sauce. Also, while I know Psylocke has some cool powers in the comics, this film seems to only show her having the power of wielding some sort of electric sword.  I understand Storm (Alexandra Shipp) who can control the Earth’s weather (this still seems like a bigger asset that’s never utilized well in these movies) and Magneto (who can use the Earth’s metal core to destroy the planet), but the other two just seemed to be a case of proximity.

 

  • Why is Moira (Rose Byrne) even in this movie? She serves no purpose. Okay, at first she’s there to lead Xavier and the X-Men onto the sent of Apocalypse, and them to provide exposition about him. After that…she’s dragged along the movie from scene to scene with no purpose for her to still be in the movie, except to give us a half-hearted romance for Xavier.  She could have been written out of the movie with no detriment to the film if the exposition and discovery of Apocalypse were handled in an easier fashion.

 

  • Why does Wolverine need to be in this film? I’ve never understood why a poor man’s Freddy Krueger is the most popular X-Man. Plus, at the end of “Days of Future Past” we clearly see he’s pulled out of the water by Mystique posing as Stryker. How did he end up in the hands of Stryker (Josh Helman) again?

 

  • When exactly did Magneto have time to knock up a random woman and conceive Quicksilver (Evan Peters)?

 

  • So Jennifer Lawrence really didn’t want to wear the make-up this time, huh? It’s distracting while watching the film to plainly see on screen that she would rather be making any other movie than this one.

 

  • The final scene is just an ugly CGI-a-thon. A big step down from the Cuban Missle Crisis finale of “First Class”, and a slightly smaller step down from the moral choice finale of “Days of Future past”.

 

 

Okay, but there is good in this film. The Quicksilver scene in which he saves the students of Xavier’s academy while it blows up (“Deadpool” parodied this common occurrence a few months ago) is very fun to watch and the highlight of the film. As much as I love the song “Sweet Dreams”, though, how exactly does I fit this scene? “Time in a Bottle” at least made reference to what was going on. I also, in isolation, did like the nuclear missile disarmament scene.  Oh, and while the 3D of this film isn’t all that good (a lot of ghosting, albeit not as bad as “Green Lantern” had), I did enjoy flying through a giant hammer and sickle during the opening credits.  I’ll also mention that some of the new cast members, like Sophie Turner (as Jean Gray) and Tye Sheridan (as Cyclops), do a very good job with their new characters.

The good scenes aren’t quite enough to recommend the movie. This is a huge step down from the previous two X-Men films. Bryan Singer, who has directed a whopping total of ONE good movie not featuring X-Men (“The Usual Suspects”) probably needs to be replaced as director if they go forward with any more of these. While most of the problems with this film actually belong to the screenplay by Simon Kinberg, who has written stinkers like the last “Fantastic Four”, “This is War”, and “Jumper”, as well as the worst X-men movie “The Last Stand”, Singer’s laziness or seeming to not care about even aging up his characters or attempting to fix plot holes during filming reeks of lack of effort. The series probably needs some new blood injected into it. After all, being injected with new blood gave us the funny if not as radical as I was hoping “Deadpool”. C

 

 

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” attempts to be a politically correct and non-sexist raunchy comedy. While the attempt is commendable, it simply does not work in this form. The film is only sporadically funny at best, and the particular approach of the film undercuts the feminism.  A feminist raunchy comedy about women attempting to throw parties for women in a sorority probably would have worked better as a sequel to “Old School”, which the sorority versus a stuffy dean, than as a sequel to “Neighbors”, where the gripes of the girls’ opponents are not related to sexism and are pretty legitimate.

 

Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are about to sell their house, but they have to make sure no problems happen in the final 30 days in which the house is in escrow. I chuckled a bit at the joke that neither Mac not Kelly knew what escrow was. Kelly is pregnant, and the couple already has a toddler, who keeps taking Kelly’s vibrator as a toy. Apparently, Mac and Kelly are too dumb to put the vibrator in a locked drawer, a simple solution that made this running gag unfunny due to the fact that the couple are bad enough parents to not think of this.  The problem arises when a sorority moves in next door and throws loud parties because, well, what new buyer wants to own a home next to a party house?

 

The sorority is started by Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a one dimensional character who is spoiled by her father and upset that she didn’t have friends in high school because her parents kept her sheltered. When we meet her father (Kelsey Grammar), this backstory makes no sense, as he seems like the type that would cave to his daughter’s demands, but whatever.  She starts the sorority with one dimension fat girl stereotype Nora (Beanie Feldstein) and lacking any personality girl Beth (a wasted Kiersey Clemmons, who was so great in last year’s “Dope”).  After finding out what sororities are not allowed to throw parties (does that violate freedom of assembly if the college is public?), and not wanting to go to frat parties where sexist objectification is the norm and the threat of rape prevalent (legitimate concerns), they decide to start an off campus sorority where they can have dress up parties, cry to sad movies, and just have fun girl time. Basically, adult female sleepovers.  The motive and the goals are all fine, but they refuse to compromise on keeping the noise down for 30 days until Mac and Kelly can get out of escrow. The girls’ inability to compromise and youthful selfishness makes them hard to like, and the film keeps the girls so one dimensional that it undercuts any feminist message related to them as we inevitable side with the older, somewhat smarter, somewhat more well-developed older couple characters.

 

Oh, and we also get Zac Efron as Teddy, a dumb jock loser who lost his job and is losing his apartment and at first helps the girls set up their sorority. When the girls dump him when he tries to be the voice of reason (also not helping us like the girls) he turns to Mac and Kelly’s side in attempting to force the girls out of the house.

 

I disliked the first “Neighbors” and thought it was a wasted opportunity for a good concept. This sequel is slightly better in that I chuckled a handful of times more than when I watched the first one, but it spends so much time trying badly to be feminist that the humor takes a back seat anyway. While I appreciate the message of women wanting to have fun without being made to twerk and have wet t-shirt contests for the amusement of dumb guys, and small attacks on MRAs, as well as acknowledgment that while women may like a toned male physique, few of them enjoying seeing a man’s genitals, the feminist message is undercut by having the girl characters be one dimensional, unempathetic to anyone but themselves, spoiled, and overall kind of shitty. The behavior they engage in (breaking and entering, theft, vandalism, drug dealing) are worse than the couple’s (calling the cops, shutting off the power, calling their parents), so the film gives us a lopsided portrayal of this fight in perhaps the wrong direction.

 

One can image a sequel to “Old School” in which a sexist college dean refuses to let a sorority through parties, and the “Old School” team helps them set one up to fight administrative patriarchy, and the guys help the girls combat sexist men as allies. That could work. As it stands, this film portrays a school administration too afraid to combat the girls for fear of looking sexist in public.  This seems like a fantasy only an MRA could think up, and undercuts the film’s bent yet again.

 

Perhaps none of the identity politics (the film also deals with ageism and is heavily tilted in favor of the older versus the younger) would matter if the film were funnier, but the film provides maybe one good laugh (about a pregnant Jewish woman) and a few chuckles here and there.  Many jokes fall flat, and the editing early in the film cuts so fast that it undercuts the humor of jokes which might have had a chance to land. This is simply a mediocre comedy with a misguided premise that could have been fixed, if only it hadn’t been shoehorned into being a “Neighbors” sequel. C-