X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Ride Along 2 Audio Review: Ice-cold Hart


Director: Tim Story

Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong

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Release date: February 18th, 2016 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Deliver Us From Evil Review – Bumps in the Night


Director: Scott Derrickson 

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman (screenplay), Ralph Sarchie (book)

Stars: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Joel McHale

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 Release date: July 2nd, 2014

Distributor: Screen Gems

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Which two genres draw in major crowds no matter what? Give up? Ok, I’ll give you a hint – they both rely on cliches, dumb characters, and opening weekend grosses. Ok, fine! The two genres are horror and romantic-comedy. Opening on the July 4th weekend, Deliver Us From Evil is Hollywood’s latest horror/smash-and-crash extravaganza. Yes, the title is as predictable as the ending to a slasher remake (spoiler: the nicest hottie lives!). However, this one belongs to a particular sub-genre currently making the rounds. Deliver Us From Evil, drawing comparisons to the director’s previous work and recent horror flicks of its type, is an exorcism-thriller trying and failing to become a whole other monster in itself.

Eric Bana.

Abusing Hollywood tropes and audience attendance patterns like a child in Freddy Kruger’s rape dungeon, Deliver Us From Evil comes off like a pitiful effort dumped into an unforgiving release date. In fact, the premise will cause plot-hole critics everywhere to prick up their ears and tap on their keyboards with an unholy amount of glee. However, for those of us willing to suspend pure and unadulterated disbelief, this horror-thriller makes for a quaint outing with mates. Teaming up with an overpriced bucket of popcorn and noisy viewers yelling: “Don’t go in there!”, this B-movie delivers, at most, an enjoyably goofy cinema experience. The story, such as it is, is as tried, tested, and true as an Apple product. Of course, with the Devil being the biggest villain of all, the movie first touches on his/her origins. The plot kicks off in 2010 Iraq, with three soldiers murdering several Taliban soldiers before discovering the story’s most intriguing and terrifying device. Cut to 2013 New York, and grizzled street cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) is upset with his chaotic profession’s darker shades. After watching a baby die in his arms, Sarchie’s goodwill unravels within one night. With his partner Butler (Joel McHale) pushing him through, Sarchie’s latest case may alter his understanding of good and evil. Teamed up with roguish priest Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez), Sarchie may be forced to find his faith before taking down Santino (Sean Harris).

Edgar Ramirez.

From the opening frame, Deliver Us From Evil, despite labelling itself as being “based on actual events”, shuffles through and picks out every horror, familial drama, and cop-thriller trope in the book. In fact, this derivative horror flick comes just short of pulling out a cursed book and reading from it. This bizarre crime-thriller, the latest sceptics-and-believers tale from polarising writer/director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), is nowhere near as interesting as his more profound features. Working from his own derivative and ethically unsound screenplay, co-written by frequent collaborator Paul Harris Boardman, Derrickson’s work harks back to a much more meaningful time in horror cinema. As the autistic lovechild of The Exorcist and Seven, Deliver Us From Evil checks off everything said features had already given us. Derrickson, presenting this an inventive and potent genre mash-up, proves that a writer/director can grow too close to their own material. Like the possessed characters running through this concoction, Derrickson has been taken over and manipulated by artistic integrity’s greatest threats – studio executives and teenagers. Catering to certain demands, his latest is a significant step down from the creepy and thought-provoking Sinister. However, it’s still better than his biggest adventure, thus far (the Day the Earth Stood Still remake). Recently hired for Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strangelove, this auteur may further succumb to this particular affliction.

“I’ve seen some horrible things, nothing that can’t be explained by human nature.” (Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), Deliver Us From Evil).

Newcomer Sean Harris.

Without examining the fact vs. faith argument, Derrickson and co. assume we know everything about this issue before going in. With Sarchie’s “radar” referred to as a spiritual gift, the movie’s flawed logic and stereotypical  overtones keeps us at arm’s length throughout. However, Derrickson’s atmospheric direction salvages an otherwise forgettable exorcism-thriller. With horror tropes plastered across each frame, the jump-scares come thick and fast. In addition, his unique camerawork and sound design ticks amp-up the movie’s overbearing intensity levels. Pumping The Doors at opportune moments, certain musical interludes breath life into several nail-biting sequences. Aptly, Derrickson saves his best directorial flourishes for the final third’s extended exorcism set-piece. Bizarrely, with an unnatural reliance on animals, tattooed villains, toys, crucifixes, and flickering lights, the movie’s bump-in-the-night moments are punctuated with near-laughable jaunts. With McHale’s inclusion, I was half-expecting a satirical jab against cats in scary situations. However, despite his bet efforts, the comedic moments jar with the story’s dour, omnipresent tone. It’s not his fault. In fact, for the most part, he draws  convincing turns out of his cast. Bana and Ramirez elevate their polar-opposite roles with innate charisma. Meanwhile, Harris, McHale, and Olivia Munn keep up with their pseudo-valuable supporting characters.

With the Paranormal Activity series and The Last Exorcism dominating cinematic horror of late, this mega-successful genre has all but used up its share of exorcism/crisis-of-faith concepts. With these debates raging on, this particular sub-genre puts everything the most simplistic of terms. Deliver Us From Evil, despite Derrickson’s commendable intentions, can’t help but communicate tried-and-tested information. Obliterating its fine performances and alluring direction, this exorcism-thriller becomes little more than an extended episode of Supernatural. The power of Hollywood compels you? eh, not this time.

Verdict: A mindless yet efficient mish-mash. 

The Newsroom: Season 1 Review – News Crunch


Creator: Aaron Sorkin

Channel: HBO

Stars: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston


Genre: Political Drama

Premiere: June 24th, 2012

Country: USA


 

4½/5

Best part: Sorkin’s dialogue

Worst part: Some mildly uninteresting/distracting sub-plots

In a time of Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, and everything shoddy and manipulative in between, there no longer seems to be a place for serious journalism. I may be a little biased, but I feel this concern is of grave importance to everyone on Earth. Thankfully, smart people still exist in L.A. and are trying to get this issue out to the masses. One of these rare few is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin, Oscar-winning writer known for such TV shows/movies as The Social Network and The West Wing, is a bitingly harsh writer/creator and one of Hollywood’s most controversial people. Having covered political and social issues in other works, The Newsroom Season 1 is yet another Sorkin rant transformed into a polarising HBO series.

Jeff Daniels.

In the last few years, HBO has transformed itself from a friendly network into the hub of nail-biting and thought-provoking TV (confirmed with the shift from shows like Sex and The City to shows like Game of Thrones). This bold and unflinching network has stood its ground over the past four years to raise the quality of TV above film. On the same level of quality as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Girls, The Newsroom is an edgy and life affirming show that is unafraid to stand up for good ol’ fashioned values/principles/ethics. In true Sorkin fashion, it starts off with a hilarious, mean-spirited yet truthful rant.The first episode’s prologue depicts its lead character, self-confessed wildcard and popular Atlantic Cable News (ACN) anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), sitting in on a University seminar bored out of his skull. It’s at this point that Sorkin’s agenda becomes startlingly obvious, and McAvoy becomes his well-dressed avatar. After a sorority girl’s rather naive, and Independence Day-level jingoistic, question rings throughout the theatre, McAvoy snaps at the girl, the other panelists, and the people of America for turning the United States into a backward and lazy nation. This tirade may seem harsh, but the show, and the viewer’s understanding of it, is aided by McAvoy truthful words. His listing of embarrassing statistics, and advice for how the US can return to prosperity, is nothing short of awesome. After this stunt, McAvoy’s nemesis, Mckenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), is hired by ACN news division president and McAvoy’s best friend Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). What follows, in the season’s 10 episodes, is a gruelling set of events stemming from returning McAvoy’s show ‘News Night’ to its glory days.

Emily Mortimer.

From the opening scene, you can tell that the show’s goals and messages are in good faith. By giving News Night some room to breathe, the hurriedly established team of journalists can find reasons for changing the show. Sorkin is a blunt and witty screenwriter. By taking the reins of this topical premise, Sorkin can throw his intelligent views into each episode. His views are relevant and relatable, but it can be a bit overbearing at times. His pro-liberal and anti-tea party movement agenda suggests that Sorkin is someone who is brashly subjective and condescending. Despite this, there are many intuitive morals that come out of each episode (“I’m a registered Republican, I only seem Liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”) Generation Y is targeted and supported in The Newsroom. Despite Sorkin’s rough yet honest stance on tabloid media and law-breaking (News of the World’s actions, in particular), he gives the younger characters a chance to speak for themselves. Sorkin’s other media-based shows – Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – are very similar to The Newsroom. All three series’ strip away the fat and any sense of ‘Hollywood’ style to deliver one stirring and pacy episode after another. However, unlike the two aforementioned series’, The Newsroom stays on point and contains convincing situations/messages. The first episode ‘We Just Decided to’ is punchy and breezy right up until the final line. The episode follows McAvoy from one issue, whether they’re deeply personal or professional, to the next. Here, he’s described as a wavering spirit unable to control anything around him.

“…when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*uck you’re talking about! Yosemite?” (Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), The Newsroom).

Allison Pill.

Despite the second episode’s slight decline in quality and reverence, it still contains important issues that would be left well enough alone by any other writer/creator. Sorkin’s ‘coverage’ of factual news stories is engaging but slightly ham-fisted. His research and attention to detail is fulfilling, but he seems to be pulling a middle finger when it isn’t required. I’m sure journalists went to as much, if not more, trouble to cover the 2010 BP oil disaster than Sorkin claims. What does work, however, is the crackling dialogue. Despite using the 1930s rat-a-tat dialogue in everything he writes, there are many laugh-out-loud lines that some up every vital conflict occurring this season. His dialogue leaves no stone unturned as many lines tear down our reliance on social media and pop-culture (“Was she really not ashamed to say she had ‘Bieber fever’?”) McAvoy’s bafflement over the world’s love of reality TV is hysterical and references to Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa are top notch. However, Sorkin’s snazzy dialogue establishes every character as being a little too smart for their own good. The shouting matches are pacy and enjoyable, but are a tad unrealistic. The character actor driven cast does an amazing job with the many tongue tying lines and problem-filled characters. Daniels delivers an astonishing performance as the damaged and intelligent McAvoy. His rapport with Mortimer sends sparks, and occasionally inanimate objects, flying. Pill, Waterston, Dev Patel, and Olivia Munn are solid in supporting roles that hopefully will be developed to a much greater extent in season 2.

With a smart sense of humour and passionate characters, The Newsroom is an underrated and enthralling political-drama. Continuing HBO’s stellar run of earnest, well-crafted TV, it’s the only news-related show that isn’t afraid to say: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (only fitting seeing as it’s similar to Network).

Verdict: Putting the ‘invest’ back into investigative journalism.